Gators junior defensive lineman Tedarrell “TJ” Slaton watches “the play” often.
“I knew as soon as it happened,” he said. “At that point, (there) was nothing I could do.”
He remembers the repercussions, too.
“The next day in the meeting room, Coach Sal (Sunseri) came in, he just told us ‘There has to be a change,’ ” Slaton said. “And I knew exactly why there was a change.”
A former offensive lineman turned defensive lineman out of Fort Lauderdale’s American Heritage, Slaton was in the middle of his second collegiate start when “the play” occurred.
“At the beginning of last year, I had started against Charleston Southern and Kentucky,” said Slaton, “but I came down in my gap wrong (against Kentucky) and gave up a 44-yard run.”
While that Wildcats drive ended in an interception by Gators defensive back CJ Henderson, the damage to Slaton’s playing time was already done.
Slaton would ultimately see action in 10 games as a sophomore, and two games later he would notch a career-high five tackles in UF’s 47-21 win over Tennessee, but the underclassman had shown Florida’s new coaching staff that he wasn’t quite ready to start in the SEC.
Adam Shuler, who had arrived in Gainesville by way of West Virginia just a month before preseason camp, would take over the starting role at defensive tackle for the remainder of the season; meanwhile, Slaton was told to keep his chin up.
“Coach (Todd) Grantham came up to me, he was just like, ‘We’re not doing this because we don’t like you, we’re just doing this ‘cause it’s a part of the game, and this situation,’ ” Slaton said. “He was just telling me to not look down upon yourself because we took it away from you. Just work to get better and fight for it.”
While the last year hasn’t been easy, Slaton believes he’s put in the work necessary to be a vital contributor once again. He’s shed some weight from his 6-foot-5 frame — a decision that’s necessary for Slaton to build endurance in the hope of staying longer on the field.
“I got down to 335 (pounds) from 355, that’s what I was at the end of the season last year,” he said.
Although the Gators have a top-notch sports nutrition staff, things didn’t click until Slaton did some research on the internet.
“Just a lot of looking up online, just what can I do, and then I just came across a website that said you don’t have to change what you eat, just eat less,” Slaton said. “I didn’t change up my diet, I just started eating smaller portions of whatever I was eating at the time. So usually if I packed a big meal to take home, I probably wouldn’t eat most of it, I would eat a quarter of it, and that’s it. Drink more water to fill in the open spaces.”
It seems backward that Slaton would turn to Google for education rather than the resources of a top-10 public university. He addressed that, too, and how it translates to the film room.
“I’m a visual guy. I don’t ask too many questions, I’d rather you show me and then I’ll just go out and do it,” Slaton said. “Last year (Grantham) came in, having to learn a new defense was kind of tough for me at first, because, you know, I learn different from everybody else. So it took me awhile to pick up defenses and really understand why he was running certain plays. But I pretty much got it now.”
With Shuler set to lock down the starting defensive tackle position once again, and junior Kyree Campbell slated to start at nose tackle alongside Shuler, Slaton is focused simply on being able to contribute when his number is called, rather than on re-taking the starting role he once coveted.
“In this defense, you would like to start, because everybody gets their eyes on you first,” he said, “but other than that, they give you a lot of chances, so you have more than one chance to go out there and prove yourself to the coaches and to Gator Nation that you can be a real threat to this team.”
Until he capitalizes on the upcoming chances, however, Slaton is still using “the play” as inspiration.
“I watch it all the time,” he reiterated. “It put me down, but it also motivated me to get better.”
What: Florida football Fan Day
Where: O’Connell Center
When: Doors open at noon Sunday, with the team arriving at 1:30-3:30 p.m. to sign autographs and take photos with fans for two hours.