University of Florida

Antonio Callaway on pace for best freshman season in Florida Gators history

UF head coach Jim McElwain hugs wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) after a 27-3 win against Georgia at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015.
UF head coach Jim McElwain hugs wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) after a 27-3 win against Georgia at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. Orlando Sentinel

Jim McElwain is picky about his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In an ode to his 94-year-old mother, Marjorie, Florida’s coach makes his players precise PB&J’s — peanut butter and jelly spread evenly all the way to the crust.

But wideout Antonio Callaway isn’t down with that. He doesn’t like the crust, and McElwain hesitated cutting off the sandwich’s edges until the star freshman started knifing through defenses and rewriting UF’s record books.

“Not a bad player, is he?” McElwain said.

“If I could get him to eat his crust on his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’m working on that. But maybe there’s something to that. That might be the way to go. We might be the messed up ones, right?”

Maybe.

Crust or no crust, Callaway has emerged as the Gators’ most dynamic offensive weapon in years.

In just three short months, the former Booker T. Washington standout has supplanted wideout Demarcus Robinson as the team’s top playmaker, displaying a flair for the dramatic.

Callaway has appeared almost weekly on SportsCenter, with notable highlights including a one-handed, 34-yard catch at Kentucky and a thrilling 63-yard touchdown-dash to upset Tennessee. He added a punt return score and another nifty, juggling one-handed snag versus LSU. And then, last Saturday, he showcased his athleticism again, snatching an off-balance, tiptoeing 66-yard touchdown against Georgia.

“It’s fun to see what that guy does and just the way he goes about what he does, too,” senior tight end Jake McGee said.

“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 being around him everyday, but when that guy makes plays, it’s something that’s fun to watch. And we can only really smile.”

Callaway has given the GatorNation plenty of reasons to grin lately.

The Miami native is submitting the best freshman season in school history. The speedy wideout is the first rookie receiver in school history with three 100-yard games, eclipsing Reidel Anthony’s record of two performances over the century mark.

Callaway ranks seventh nationally in yards per catch (22.0 ypc) — tops among all freshmen. Overall, he has 19 receptions for 418 yards and three touchdowns, adding a return score and a 13.69-yard punt return average, too.

“We knew there was something special in this kid when we started recruiting him,” McElwain said.

“I think he’s proven that. And yet, he still hasn’t scratched the surface.”

That’s a scary proposition for the rest of the SEC.

Callaway came to Florida as a rather underrated four-star recruit. After three years at Homestead High, he played his senior season for the Tornadoes and coach Tim Harris Jr. — UF quarterback Treon Harris’ older brother.

Callaway’s senior year was cut short due to a torn meniscus, and his recruitment came down to the hometown Hurricanes and the Gators. His relationship with the Harris family helped tip the scales, and the rest is history.

“Here’s what I like: He goes about his business the way it’s supposed to be done,” McElwain said.

“He’s consistent. He wants to be good. It’s important to him. This team is important to him.”

There’s an effortlessness to Callaway’s game, and he’s only going to get better.

The freshman has made the extraordinary look ordinary, flaunting his soft hands on one play and displaying his balance, burst or blocking acumen on the next.

Although Callaway’s presence has surprised many, teammates were predicting a breakout season this summer.

At SEC Media Days in July, UF wideout Brandon Powell said to “watch out” for Callaway.

“He’s going to be a big help in the receiving corps,” Powell added.

“He’s smooth, just one of those South Florida athletes coming in. Just got all the potential. You’ll hear about him.”

Everyone certainly has now.

McELWAIN LIKES CFP RANKING

Florida debuted at No. 10 in the initial 2015 College Football Playoff rankings.

The Gators were ranked behind seven undefeated teams and one-loss schools Alabama and Notre Dame, but McElwain is just excited UF is in the discussion.

“I kind of look at it like they actually mentioned us,” McElwain said. “I think that’s a step in the right direction. Now I do believe Florida should be in that conversation every single year.”

The Gators (7-1, 5-1 SEC) host the Vanderbilt Commodores this weekend (noon, ESPN) with a chance to clinch the SEC East for the first time since 2009.

If Florida runs the table, including a victory in Atlanta, it would likely climb into the top four.

That’s the goal, McElwain said

“I’d like to be in the top four, because you’re still working every week,” he said. “Here’s the beauty of that. I think first and foremost you have to put yourself in position to be in the picture. And all that means is … you got to get in one of those spots to play for the show. I think it’s all right they’re talking about the University of Florida. I think that’s a good thing. … And yet understand it means really nothing. Go ahead, be excited about it, because you’ve put the work in so far to be in that discussion. That’s all right.”

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