Photo: Antonio Valentino; Credit: University of Florida athletic association
Following a low-energy and unproductive season from the Gators defense in 2020, Florida made a plethora of changes during the offseason with hopes of providing a spark to turnaround in 2021.
Adding several new faces to the roster via the transfer portal, the Gators equipped themselves with game-ready pieces that will immediately impact the unit in the upcoming season. In that search for the missing electricity, attitude and refined talent upfront, Florida presumably hit the jackpot via the transfer portal, reeling in former Penn State defensive lineman Antonio Valentino.
Announcing his transfer to the University of Florida on Jan. 6, Valentino would immediately be destined for a substantial role in the Gators defense as they attempt to fill the holes at the interior defensive line spots with two veterans departing from the program.
“It’s my job to uphold the Gator Standard, like coach [Dan] Mullen always talks about. And go out here and make sure I make my teammates proud of how our place, as well as those older guys who came before us and paved the way and made this football program what it is.”
Playing four seasons at Penn State, Valentino made a bigger impact on the Nittany Lions defense each year, totaling 51 total tackles, 12.5 TFLs, six sacks and one forced fumble in 31 appearances, an upward trend Florida defensive line coach David Turner hopes to continue and maximize in Valentino's final year of collegiate eligibility.
Standing at 6-foot-3, 312-pounds, Valentino presents a large presence in the middle of a defense. On Wednesday, Valentino provided insight into his presumptive role in the trenches, citing similarities in his and former Gator TJ Slaton's playing styles.
As a result, Valentino has spent a vast amount of time watching Slaton's film this offseason to visualize himself operating in the Gators' defense.
“I think, to be honest with you, what I’ve spent a lot of time on, I’ve watched a lot of film on TJ. I think our playstyles are pretty similar, and I think that TJ was very good in his techniques. TJ was one of those players where he made his plays when he had to make them, but I think where Coach T said TJ made the majority of his money from, is causing disruption."
Lining up as a three-technique while at Penn State, Valentino's connection to Slaton suggests more time at the nose tackle spot in the Gators defense. As a result, absorbing the information offered by Turner is paramount for a smooth transition, namely the emphasis on making plays on the field, but not on the stat sheet by filling gaps to redirect ball carriers.
"If they were zoning to his side, he would stick his foot in the ground and make the running back have to cut back to where the rest of the defense is. So I think I can do things similar to that, it’s just getting 100 percent comfortable with the playbook and anticipating things before they happen and knowing when to react to things."
In his last season, the versatile defensive lineman will be asked to bring his high energy and previously displayed mean streak to the field on Saturdays to provide juice as a forceful monster in the Gators trenches.
"I’m not the same human being Saturdays that I am Sunday through Friday. You can’t be." Valentino said when speaking to Gators media on Wednesday. "I turn into an unhinged human being. I just go out there and I do what I’m blessed to do and you can’t be the same type of guy. When it’s time to play, it’s time to play.”
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