Georgia Tech’s Antonneous Clayton hoping his wait ends soon

Georgia Tech defensive end Antonneous Clayton at preseason practice in August 2020.

Credit: Georgia Tech football/Santino Stancato

Credit: Georgia Tech football/Santino Stancato

It wasn’t quite enough that, after transferring to Georgia Tech last year, Antonneous Clayton had to sit out last season when his immediate-eligibility waiver was denied. Instead, Clayton’s wait has had a measure of uncertainty mixed in, as there are no assurances that he’ll be able to play this fall for the Yellow Jackets.

“I would say it’s been very difficult,” Clayton said Tuesday. “Like, we’re here, we’re there. One moment, we know we’re playing. The next moment, they’re postponing the season. All this stuff is in the air.”

With less than a month to go before the Yellow Jackets’ season opener – at Florida State on Sept. 12 – it’s no given that the game or season will be played, as ACC officials and school presidents monitor the spread of COVID-19. In that unsettled interval, Clayton has done what he can.

“He’s definitely hungry, but he’s also putting in a lot of good work,” defensive ends coach Marco Coleman said. “He’s excited about the opportunity – well, hoping for an opportunity – to be able to get out there and play.”

It will be Clayton’s final opportunity at the college level. A four-star prospect out of Dooly County High in South Georgia and the No. 27 prospect in the country (247Sports Composite) in 2016, Clayton was recruited to Florida by then-Gators defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. In two-plus seasons with the Gators, Clayton was not impactful, playing 17 games and totaling 11 tackles. In 2018, despite being healthy, he was redshirted, playing in three games.

After transferring to Tech and reuniting with Collins, he was in line to have two seasons with the Jackets if his waiver were granted. Last preseason, his strength and explosiveness made a quick impression. But, his waiver was turned down, and he served as a practice player for the whole of the 2019 season.

Still, even with no chance to play, he practiced diligently to prepare Tech’s offensive line. To coaches, it was a show of character. The work has continued this August. On Tuesday, Coleman singled out Clayton and Jordan Domineck among the defensive ends for their performance in practice.

“They’re coming along as they should,” Coleman said. “But they’re standing out with their effort and getting better at the techniques that we’re asking them to do.”

In Coleman, the Tech All-American and 14-year NFL veteran, Clayton has a mentor to refine his game. Coleman said that he has helped Clayton by widening his pre-snap stance among other habits. One was a tendency to take a knee while on the field. Coleman said it was “not something I’m a big fan of. He’s gotten that out of there.”

Clayton said he has been humbled since coming to Tech.

“I’m not going to sit here and say that I thought I had everything figured out, but coach Coleman and also (defensive line coach Larry) Knight, they also found some flaws in my game that stood out to them that they touched upon and were talking to me (about),” he said, “which has helped me develop into a better football player overall.”

At 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, Clayton will be counted on to use his strength to set the edge against the run and drive back pockets, an element that the Jackets sorely needed last season, when they averaged 1.4 sacks per game, tied for 111th in FBS. Being saturated with freshmen at defensive end, such as Chico Bennett, Justice Dingle, Sylvain Yondjouen, Curtis Ryans and Domineck, didn’t help the Tech pass rush.

Coleman said he believes that the rush will be better, “just because of the maturation, better understanding. Physically, they’ve gotten bigger and stronger.”

The very picture of bigger and stronger, Clayton can play himself onto the radar of NFL scouts if he can produce in a way that Tech coaches anticipate. But he’ll need games and a season to do it.

“I’m very excited about the way Antonneous has been working and his focus, his desire,” Coleman said. “He’s going to be a huge asset, once we get things going here, for this football season.”

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