Collins has tried to keep them from worrying about their situations.
“All you can do is, ‘Here’s the situation that I’m in right now, here’s what I’ve got to do, and I just go and do it and I play at the highest level I can play,’” Collins said Monday after practice, the 11th of the preseason. “You’ve got to block out all the noise, play one play at a time – all those things.”
Collins said that he recognizes that their eligibility status is at the forefront of their minds, but credited them with putting it aside during practice and focusing on improving. Collins praised their work ethic and their assimilation into the team culture.
“They’re not worried about what group they’re running with or whatever position they may be in,” Collins said. “They’re just going out there and working every single day and they’ve been a joy to coach. They’ve been great in the locker room, because a lot of the times with that, that can become a distraction.”
All have been getting plenty of practice time, though mostly not with the “A” unit. Because of the shortage of experience at defensive end, Clayton might be the one who could make the biggest impact were he to receive a waiver.
“He’s powerful, he’s fast,” Tech offensive lineman Scott Morgan said. “Very fast off the ball. You don’t know what he’s going to do. He can sometimes bull rush you, he can swim over you, he can go inside. He’s very experienced. He’s just a very quick, very smart guy.”
Clayton has logged the most time in college in the group, having enrolled at Florida in 2016, recruited by Collins when he was defensive coordinator for the Gators. He played five games as a freshman before a season-ending injury, played nine games as a backup in 2017 and then, after falling down the depth chart, redshirted last season to gain weight and develop.
“Great guy,” defensive end Justice Dingle said of Clayton. “We really needed that piece, that veteran piece, to push us and give us some pointers that we need.”
The timing of Clayton’s transfer is also the most precarious of the three. As he has already played two seasons and had a redshirt season, he only has two more seasons of eligibility and two years to complete them. If he doesn’t receive a waiver, he’ll only be able to play one season at Tech, in 2020.
He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April that he had intended to finish his career at Florida but his mother Caronica developed a medical issue that compelled him to be closer to her. However, NCAA guidelines may not be in his favor. The guidelines, updated in June, require that the new school must be within 100 miles of the family member, and Dooly County is more than 100 miles from Atlanta.
Ezzard and Sims both transferred after redshirting their first seasons on campus and, even if they sit out the 2019 season, both will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.
“At no point have any of the three been anything but awesome,” Collins said. “They come in here, they work hard every single day, they’ve taken coaching, they’ve bought into the culture, they’ve ingrained themselves into who we are. So really proud of them for that.”