Leaner than a year ago, Jefferson ready to lead by example in 2017

Landon Watnick, Beat Writer
Inside the Gators
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After a stellar freshman season where he logged some of the best stats in program history of any first-year Florida defensive linemen, CeCe Jefferson's sophomore season had its share of ups and downs.

For the most part, the 2016 season was a solid campaign by the Glen St. Mary, Fla., native - Jefferson logged 30 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries in 12 appearances (six starts) - but a transition from defensive end to tackle during the offseason and early on that year did quite pan out as coaches, or Jefferson, would have hoped. He didn't look as comfortable working in the interior full-time, or moving around with added girth to his frame, during the defensive tackle experiment.

However, from last season to now, Jefferson has made a physical transformation. Currently weighing at about 250 pounds at 6-foot-1, Jefferson says he has lost 25 pounds since last year but hopes to eventually get to a "solid 265 and just go from there."

"My belly used to hang over my jersey, I couldn’t be on TV looking all fat," Jefferson quipped. "I definitely make a transition with my body and I feel better, but I want to add a few more pounds, get some more muscle, and just get ready for this season.”

Added Florida defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator Chris Rumph: “I think he’s going to redefine his body. Before he was a little pudgy. He’s already lost some weight now he’s going to put it back on the right way. I don’t wanna say anything bad about fast food restaurants, but just eating bad.”

However, the Gators have mentioned playing Jefferson both inside and outside during the 2017 season. Although Jefferson currently isn't as heavy as he was a year ago, a player with his power and burst can potentially make an impact as a 3-technique tackle on passing downs in certain packages.

“Just depends on what package and what down and distance," Florida head coach Jim McElwain said of where Jefferson could play in 2017. "I think you’re going to see both. He’s a guy that we need to get into matchup situations, whether it’s on a tackle that we want to try to work the 1-on-1s with or if it’s on a guard away from a slide side, if we can dictate that. But he’s a guy that’s got to be able to play it all.

"He’s another guy that I think, he just loves to play. He’s not too cool for school. This guy loves to play. He’s so much fun to have on the team. Just his energy and his day-to-day approach is really good. He continues to get better."

So far this spring, Jefferson has seen most of his action at defensive end, where he's worked as a regular first-stringer.

"Right now don't have as many bodies inside. We're light," Rumph said. "Hopefully the freshmen coming in, we'll see what happens coming in. But right now the plan is for him to be on the edge right now."

The versatile Jefferson is open to contributing anywhere along the line for the Gators, although he has worked mainly at defensive end this spring and enjoyed it there.

"I mean, I like it. I like the pass rush, you know I like to set edges. It’s been a good deal so far," Jefferson said. “To be honest, I feel more comfortable either or. But how my body is right now I think it’s best for me to stay out. Pass rushing is fun, setting the edge is fun and I just enjoy it. I’m willing to do whatever to make this team better.

“That makes me more valuable. I wouldn’t mind going from end getting a sack to going to 3 getting a sack. Definitely something I wouldn’t mind doing. If coach needs it, this team needs it, then I’m willing to do it.”

After losing eight starters from last year's lineup - four to graduation (Bryan Cox Jr., Joey Ivie, Jarrad Davis, Marcus Maye) and four to the draft (Caleb Brantley, Alex Anzalone, Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson) - Florida will look to Jefferson, a former five-star signee from the 2015 class, to be one of the standouts on its 2017 defense to pick up the torch.

“I’m the type, man, my leadership – I’m kind of a lead-by-example type of guy," Jefferson said. "I’m not the rah rah guy that’s going to try to get everybody pumped up. I’m going to try to lead by my actions and play. That’ll definitely be my leadership role going into this season.”

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