For many recruits, making their college decision is a long process that doesn’t end until signing day.
Some even take their recruitment past that, such as the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver, Demetris Robertson.
But for defensive end Antonneous Clayton, Florida’s top-ranked signee in the 2016 class, he made up his mind about UF as soon as he visited the school.
“The first time I went,” Clayton said. “When I got to Florida, I just had that feeling. I picked Florida when I saw that first palm tree coming off the highway. I was like, ‘Yep, this is where I want to be.’ I knew before I even stepped foot on campus.
“You don’t want to go somewhere because of the school, necessarily. You want to go based on the environment, the people and the community. That’s the thing I look at. You’re spending the next four years of your life there, so you want to make sure you’re well taken care of and respected.”
Clayton got that vibe from the Gators, but one SEC school didn’t give him that feeling. Find out below which program it was (hint: it’s a biggie).
The following is a Q&A with Clayton in the seventh edition of our Florida recruiting rewind series.
Q: If you could give a junior ONLY one piece of advice about the recruiting process, what would it be?
A: “Every coach is going to tell you, we can offer this and that. But as far as making a decision on where you truly want to go, you have to get that certain feeling in your heart. I went on all these visits to Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, Florida State and Florida. But when you go this one unique place, you get that home feeling in your heart and you’ll know that’s exactly where you want to be. You really should keep that feeling and remember it so you can compare it to all the other feelings you get when you go to these other colleges. When you think about it, where you get that feeling is usually the place you need to go. It worked out pretty good for me.”
Q: What school came in second?
A: “None of them really. If Florida didn’t exist, it probably would have been Florida State. Not because of the school, though. Going there just would have benefited me, my family and everybody who’s around me. They have to be able to come to my games and feel comfortable to call me and come down. If I went to Florida State, I could still give them those things.”
Q: What was the most creative thing a school or coach did to get your attention?
A: “Wisconsin sent me a drawer full of letters. The amount of love and attention they showed was big.”
Q: What was the biggest rumor about you that wasn’t true?
A: “Everybody kept saying I was 210, 215. I’ve been at 230 pounds. My weight is still wrong on some of the sites. The other thing is people saying I didn’t face any competition. Every team we played put their best lineman on me. I’d get a double team every play. Teams would change their offensive scheme because of me, which was crazy.”
Q: What’s the biggest secret you kept during the recruiting process?
A: “That I was hurt. I had a fractured toe my whole senior season, but I still got 20 sacks. It was still bothering me in the Under Armour All-America Game. Often when you tell people you’re hurt, especially at big events like that, they’re not going to let you play. That’s why I posted the tweet about not being 100 percent and that people still couldn’t stop me. But I’m healed now, running sprints and everything.”
Q: What is the funniest thing any HEAD coach said to you during the entire recruiting process, either on phone or in person?
A: “The two funniest coaches are coach (Jim) McElwain and coach Jimbo (Fisher). Those guys are hilarious. I can’t remember things they said to me, but they always made me laugh.”
Q: What was your biggest regret during the recruiting process?
A: “None. I don’t have any regrets. All the decisions I’ve made up to now I really sat down and thought about how they would affect my future and the people around me. So I don’t have any regrets at all. Everything that’s happened to me has been a blessing. I’m really thankful.”
Q: What was the funniest story that happened on one of your recruiting trips?
A: “When I went to Auburn for Big Cat Weekend. We drove golf carts around the campus and we were racing for a scavenger hunt. That was really cool. I liked it because my little brother enjoyed it.”
Q: Describe the impact of cost of attendance on your recruiting?
A: “Money is not really a thing to me. They say every school’s cost of attendance is different. I paid attention and put it in perspective. But when we compared all of them, I was going to get taken care of no matter what. That wasn’t a problem.”
Q: Which coach was it the hardest to say no? That you weren’t coming there?
A: “Auburn. Coach (Gus) Malzhan is a great man. It was hard when he kept coming to see me at the end. I don’t like telling people no, but that’s part of life. It’s hard to swallow, though. There’s a lot of emotions that go into that. Auburn was one of the first schools to offer me, so I had a lot of respect for them.”
Q: Which school disappointed you the most during recruiting?
A: “Alabama. As people may know, Alabama is all about business. For me, it’s just the way they treated my family. It was crazy. Everywhere we went on campus, my grandmother and my mom had to walk. My grandmother’s feet started hurting. Every other school took my grandmother around on a golf cart. Not to brag or anything, but I was the top recruit (Alabama) had on campus that day. They said they really wanted me, but they didn’t show me that. All the other schools took care of my family, constantly checked on us and made sure we were comfortable. They really cared about us.”
Q: Which college would you have considered more seriously if they had offered you earlier in the process?
A: “Georgia. They never offered me. I actually went up there and worked out for an offer. I ran a good 40, did like a mini-combine. But they never offered me. They said they couldn’t decide whether they wanted me at outside linebacker or defensive end. What kind of excuse is that? I know I’m a talented player. Get me on your team and figure it out.”
Q: Which head coach of a team that you did not sign with was the nicest? Which coach was not the nicest?
A: “Coach (Jim) Harbaugh was a really nice guy. He was never really like, ‘I want you, I want you.’ Every time we talked he would ask me how my day was going and talk to me on a personal level. To me, that showed how much he actually wanted me. I didn’t like Nick Saban, of course. I respect their program. I respect everything about Alabama. But there’s a time and a place for everything. You can’t serious and stern all the time.”