GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Antonneous Clayton arrived at Florida last summer with a handful of stars next to his name.
The Under Armour All-American defensive end quickly found out how much weight that held on the college level.
“I was highly ranked but when I got here, those stars didn’t mean nothing,” Clayton said. “I still had a huge learning curve.”
Clayton was the highest-rated signee in Florida’s 2016 class. He had a 5-star rating from Rivals and a top 10 overall ranking from ESPN.
Clayton admits he thought it would be easy to play as a true freshman. His notoriety, however, didn’t help him adjust to the speed of the SEC, handle the physicality at the line of scrimmage or learn the playbook.
“The tempo,” Clayton said when asked what surprised him most. “College football is like way faster, you know? So you’ve got to make sure that you’re eating right, your cardio is good. You’ve got to make sure that you’re paying attention.
“There’s no more coming off the ball with your hands slow, playing slow. It’s all about being physical, striking, speed, power, athleticism. That’s the main curve I had to overcome. Coming in at 215, I wasn’t that SEC body that I wanted to have.”
Clayton actually reported to Florida at 235 pounds, but lost 20 pounds during fall camp due to a virus and that set him back even further. He is now up to 250 pounds and eats approximately 6,000 calories a day to keep his weight on.
“We have a great nutritionist, a great nutrition program,” Clayton said. “Collier Perno, she’s been getting with me about what I need to be eating. It’s a lot of lean foods. It’s not like my belly’s sticking out.
“I’m more agile. I’m able to move at 245. It’s great. I feel as if I was still 215. The reason I know it’s not bad weight is because I don’t feel any slower than when I first came in.”
That’s good news for Florida defensive line coach Chris Rumph, who said he’s still looking for a dominant pass rusher to emerge at his position. Clayton is confident he can fill that role.
“He is improved,” Rumph said of Clayton said. “He’s had a pretty good spring, flying around and making plays. Once the game slows down for him, the more he understands the better he’s going to get and the faster he’s going to play.”
Clayton played in five games last year before breaking a bone in his hand prior to the regular-season finale at Florida State. His fellow defensive linemen expect much more from him in 2017.
“I feel like Clayton is really stepping up to the plate,” nose tackle Khairi Clark said. “I feel like he can actually have potentially a Dante Fowler role in his near future. He just has that dog in him.”