Listed at 6-foot-4 and 349 pounds, Florida sophomore defensive lineman Tedarrell “T.J.” Slaton can dunk a basketball.
Slaton also used to be able to do a standing backflip.
“Not now,” Slaton said. “I need a running start.”
Slaton possesses plenty of natural athletic gifts — size, speed, agility and nimble feet. Honing those gifts was a process last season, as he transitioned from the offensive line to the defensive line as a true freshman. But Slaton said he feels more comfortable and confident as a defensive tackle heading into his sophomore season. With that confidence, Slaton has set a lofty goal.
“I’m trying to get the UF sack record,” Slaton said.
The record, 13 sacks in a season, was set by Alex Brown in 1999. To accomplish that goal, Slaton will first need to prove he can stay on the field for more plays. Slaton said at Florida football media day he’s at 340 pounds, down from 373 pounds last season. He’s consulting regularly with Florida head nutritionist Collier Perno, who had Slaton on a strict offseason plan. Slaton said he’s still allowed to order his favorite food, pizza, on occasion, but is limited to three slices per serving.
“It was really my weight that was holding me back,” Slaton said. “I couldn’t play at the end of the season because my weight had really went up a lot.”
In limited action, though, Slaton made his presence known as a freshman, recording 11 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. The tackles for loss came against a pair of SEC opponents — Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Slaton has all of the size and measurables a coach looks for in a dominant defensive lineman.
“T.J. is a young player that has embraced the things we’ve asked him to do,” Grantham said. “He’s obviously a talented guy that can play multiple things for us. He’s what I consider a three-down player from the sense that he has the ability to stop the run on early downs, first and second, but he also has some pass rush ability, ability to push the pocket.”
Basketball was Slaton’s first love. He began playing at local gyms in Fort Lauderdale in seventh grade and at 6-3 and 280 pounds could dunk back then. Slaton went on to play basketball at American Heritage High School, where the sight of the 6-foot-5, 300-plus pound player driving in the lane at full speed scared more than a few would-be defenders.
“I wouldn’t want to get in front of that,” said former high school and current UF football teammate Marco Wilson.
Slaton said he had a few offers to play Division II and junior college basketball, but as one of the top recruited offensive tackles in the country from American Heritage, chose to play football at Florida. The Gators were contemplating moving Slaton from tackle to guard, but Slaton only wanted to play tackle on the offensive line.
“I had confidence that I would be a good tackle and they didn’t want to play me there so I kind of just went back to my (defensive) roots, because when I first started playing football I was a nose guard,” Slaton said.
Slaton said he learned a great deal last season from former Gator teammate Taven Bryan, another highly athletic defensive tackle who declared for the NFL draft and was picked late in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars last April. Bryan nicknamed Slaton “Baby Shrek.”
“What I took from Taven is getting your hands up quick and really getting off the ball and really being physical with guys,” Slaton said. “He was quick and his speed was unbelievable for how fast he moves and he was strong. Like really strong.”
This season, Slaton could see some time up front with redshirt senior defensive tackle Khairi Clark in some 4-3 formations and at the nose in some 3-4 formations. Slaton said his goal is to be on the field for about half of a game’s average 70 snaps on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s got everything he needs just being a young guy right now, he’s just got to keep following in the right direction,” Clark said. “He’ll be fine and I feel like with him learning by me, I feel I can teach him different things that will help him in the long run since I’ve been here for so long.”