Florida's Callaway providing big plays in freshman year
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida receiver Antonio Callaway has a season's worth of highlights - maybe even a career's worth - in just eight games.
Callaway had a one-handed catch against Kentucky, a game-winning reception against Tennessee and another one-handed catch as well as a punt return for a touchdown against LSU. Throw in that 66-yard touchdown play against Georgia on Saturday, the one in which he broke a tackle, tiptoed the sideline and then coasted into the end zone, and Callaway is doing things no one has seen from the Gators in years.
Simply put, he's the program's most dynamic offensive player since Percy Harvin.
And he's only a freshman.
''Not a bad player, is he?'' coach Jim McElwain said Monday. ''Here's what I like: He goes about his business the way it's supposed to be done. He's consistent. He wants to be good. It's important to him. This team is important to him.''
Callaway has 19 receptions for a team-high 418 yards and three touchdowns for the 11th-ranked Gators (7-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference). His numbers are far from gaudy, but he's come up huge for Florida, which can clinch the SEC's Eastern Division with a win against Vanderbilt (3-5, 1-3) on Saturday.
Callaway has scored in four of the last five games. He's been more consistent than Demarcus Robinson, more explosive than Brandon Powell and more dependable than Ahmad Fulwood.
And the best part for the Gators: They have him for at least two more years, making him an offensive cornerstone that McElwain can build around.
McElwain doesn't allow freshmen to speak to the media, but teammates and coaches rave about Callaway's talent and tenacity.
Tight end Jake McGee said Callaway really hit his stride against Tennessee, beginning with a 63-yard touchdown reception from Will Grier with 1:26 remaining. Callaway turned a simple curl route into one of the biggest plays in series history and helped the Gators overcome a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
''Really I think he started to realize what he could do out there and get comfortable,'' McGee said. ''And each week, it's fun to see what that guy does and just the way he goes about what he does, too. He's a guy that loves football and loves his team. He's fun to be around and has a good energy that he gives off to the guys, which you know the public doesn't get to see as much, but when that guy makes plays it's something that's fun to watch and you can really only smile.''
Callaway finished with five catches for 112 yards against the Volunteers, becoming Florida's first true freshman receiver to top the century mark since Reidel Anthony in 1994.
He's been just as good lately, with six receptions for 210 yards and a score in Florida's last two games. He also returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown against the Tigers, a key play that tied the game at 28 late in the third quarter.
It's probably no coincidence that Callaway's most recent success came with Treon Harris at quarterback. Callaway and Harris both grew up in Miami and probably played together somewhere along the line. Callaway played his senior year at Booker T. Washington High School, following Harris there and playing for Harris' older brother, Tim Harris Jr.
So when Treon Harris scrambles, he seemingly knows exactly where Callaway will be. That was evident on the long pass play against the Bulldogs.
''You can tell they're from the same area,'' cornerback Jalen Tabor said. ''You can tell that they've been together. You can just tell their chemistry together is just like you couldn't even put it into words. ... They've been doing this since childhood, hanging out since childhood, probably in the backyard throwing the ball when they were 7 or 8 years old. You could just tell that they had that type of chemistry on the field.''
It's apparent on his ever-growing highlight reel, too. And Callaway is just getting started.
''He's starting to understand the game and the importance of route running and how to get separation,'' receivers coach Kerry Dixon said. ''It's helping him to really grow.''
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