McCalister packing punch after packing on pounds
Published: Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 27, 2014 at 11:23 p.m.
During his two years at Florida, defensive end/outside linebacker Alex McCalister has made the transition from project to promising prospect. Now, he says he’s ready to take the next step — to player and contributor for the Gators in 2014.
“It feels amazing (to have the opportunity),” said the redshirt sophomore from Clemmons, N.C. “Playing in The Swamp, playing away, night games — just everything you can think of when you first come here. And it’s finally about to come true.
“I’m really excited to show what I can do out there and help the Gators win.”
This is the vision coach Will Muschamp had for McCalister when the Gators first started recruiting him during his senior season at West Forsyth High School.
In McCalister, Muschamp and his defensive assistants saw a tall (6-foot-6), rangy, athletic guy who ran well and moved well on the football field and the basketball court. He lacked weight and strength, but the Gators thought he was a raw, young player who could be developed over time.
“He’s a guy we knew out of high school was going to be a little more of a project,” said defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who recruited McCalister. “He’s a developmental guy. His potential and ceiling are really, really high.”
All indications are that McCalister is starting to realize that potential and has a chance to start soaring toward that high ceiling.
He’s certainly not the project he was when he first got here — when he barely weighed 205 pounds and could not bench press 225 pounds a single time.
Anyone who watched McCalister in the spring, or has seen him recently on campus, can attest that he’s no longer just a project. He’s a prospect who has a chance to contribute at defensive end, outside linebacker and the hybrid Buck position.
He’s not the same skinny kid he was two years ago. With a lot of work in the weight room, McCalister is now a powerfully built 250 pounds — and growing.
“He’s making strides to get there,” Durkin said late in the spring. “He can definitely help us in terms of pass rush. He does some dynamic things pass rush-wise that other guys can’t do. He’ll help us.
“He’s really a guy that now we can say can go into games and really help us. It’s been great. He’s responded really well. He’s learning the game. Coach (Brad) Lawing is working with him on technique and all that and he’s taking coaching and it’s showing up.”
McCalister played in only seven games last season, mostly on special teams. But he is one of the young defensive players who began to emerge in the spring.
He said his improved size and strength make a huge difference.
“Being able to be strong, compared to my freshman year where I could not lift 225 pounds to now, it’s a big difference,” said McCalister, who is now bench-pressing 225 pounds 11 times. “Back then, I said, ‘I’m going out there and not letting anyone push me around. I’m a man just like them. I play ball just like them.’ That was my mindset.
“I have the strength, size and speed behind me now and I’m ready to take it on. Being out there and having to set the edge, it was completely different in the spring compared to last season. It’s way easier now.”
McCalister said Muschamp was honest with him during the recruiting process. Muschamp told him he was a player who needed to be developed, and who needed to gain considerable weight and strength before he would have a chance to play.
“Even up to last spring, Coach Muschamp said, ‘Alex, don’t get mad. You came here, you were a basketball player, you are a developmental player,’ ” McCalister said. “He said, ‘You have to trust us, trust what we’re doing, be patient and it’s all going to come.’
“Now, I’m finally seeing that.”
McCalister said gaining strength has been easier than gaining weight. To get up to his current 250, he’s had to eat eight or nine times a day.
“They were real meals,” he said. “My eating was ridiculous. It still is. (Former UF defensive end) Duke Lemmens used to text me every hour to see if i was eating. He’d text me at midnight: Eat. Coach (Jeff) Dillman would text me: Are you eating, skinny?’
“(The coaches) said, ‘If you want to play, you have to gain weight, you really have to eat.’ That’s when it really started kicking in.”
He’s gained the weight. He added the strength. Now the former project says he’s ready to play.
“I can do things now that I couldn’t do a year ago,” McCalister said. “I’m all in now.”
McCalister is roommates with standout Buck linebacker/end Dante Fowler Jr. McCalister said the two talk football all the time.
“Talk, talk, talk,” he said. “It’s a big year for him. It’s a big year for me, too. We’ll say, ‘Let’s be on the same page. Let’s make this happen.’ ”
McCalister said it’s all about winning this season.
“When people look at me, I want them to say, ‘McCalister helped us win today,’ ” he said. “That’s my goal this year. Yes, I’m pumped up.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.