University of Florida

Jim McElwain finds positives amid Florida Gators’ indefinite suspensions

Antonio Callaway commits to the University of Florida during National Signing Day at Booker T. Washington with on Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Antonio Callaway commits to the University of Florida during National Signing Day at Booker T. Washington with on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 adiaz@miamiherald.com

Jim McElwain was jolly on Monday for a coach who’d just lost seven players, including his No. 1 receiver, to indefinite suspensions ahead of an opening weekend clash against No. 9 Michigan. But through his usual schtick, which on Monday included a reference to “Captain Kangaroo,” he didn’t completely mask his disappointment. Especially when referring to Miami native Antonio Callaway.

“I’m telling you, man, when you talk about the disappointment piece, I saw these strides,” McElwain said of Callaway, who’s had off-the-field troubles before. “And then sometimes, you take a step back.”

The latest “step back” for Callaway had McElwain admitting there’s a limit to what he can get away with while remaining on the team. Callaway was also cited for possession of marijuana in May and was accused of sexual assault for which he was found not responsible. He did, however, admit to being high on marijuana during the encounter that resulted in the accusation.

“I support them, and yet they’re always going to pay for their choices,” McElwain said. “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.”

While the school hasn’t confirmed it, it’s been reported that the suspensions resulted from misuse of school-related funds. When asked about whether players will have to pay back those funds, McElwain didn’t deny the claim’s validity.

“Any time there’s, you know, choices made,” he said, “you’ve got to make up for whatever happened. These guys are doing that.”

Aside from the Michigan game, the seven suspended players — Callaway, Keivonnis Davis, Jordan Smith, Richerd Desir-Jones, Kadeem Telfort, James Houston and Ventrell Miller — will also miss practice and all team activities until further notice.

But through the suspension cloud, McElwain sounded positive about how his players responded to the news and with how they’ve been playing generally. Especially in Friday’s scrimmage.

“Sometimes through some adversity or when things are a little rocky,” he said, “it’s really interesting how you kind of see your team kind of gel together. And what do I mean by that? We had an unbelievable scrimmage on Friday and some guys really stepped up. It was great to see.”

He said at the scrimmage, which he viewed as a try-out for younger players, some guys “made” the team, though he didn’t specify who. He also offered praise for the defense — especially the defensive line.

McElwain added the encouraging play continued through Saturday and Sunday, which led him to praise the players who are still around for staying focused amid the turmoil.

“We had unbelievable practices,” McElwain said. “They understand that they’re wrong, and yet there’s another 100 guys out there that are having a blast doing what they love to do. That’s what I was able to see moving forward.”

▪ When asked about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend as well as the possibility of self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer speaking at the University fo Florida in September, McElwain was blunt.

“Any extremist group, I don’t care – nationalist, whatever they’re called – is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s just not what we believe in here.

▪ McElwain made no effort to hide his excitement about opening the season at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

“I mean, I’ll just call it,” he said. “I am jacked to be able to say that this kid from Montana gets to go to this stadium… it’s exciting.”

“We obviously do not in any way believe in any of their views. And I think our team understands that.”

▪ McElwain had no serious injuries to report on Monday.

▪ Feleipe Franks worked with the first-team offense on Monday. McElwain provided no updates on the race for Florida’s starting quarterback job, though there still appears to be little separation between Franks, Malik Zaire and Luke Del Rio.

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