It's time for Florida coach Jim McElwain to get serious with WR Antonio Callaway
Florida may regret opening the 2017 schedule with a traditional power at a neutral site, as opposed to a sacrificial cupcake at The Swamp.
Receiver Antonio Callaway, arguably the only offensive weapon the Gators employ who can make enemy defensive coordinators sweat in the film room, was cited for marijuana possession recently by the Gainesville Police Department.
According to what has been reported, Callaway was the passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over for a routine seatbelt violation. He and the driver, a rather nefarious character named Kendrick Williams, were both caught with weed and admitted that the drugs were theirs. A court date has been set for June 6.
Williams, who is twice Callaway’s age, has a long rap sheet and is not the kind of person with whom the wideout should be associating.
“We’ll get everything handled,” UF coach Jim McElwain said Thursday at an alumni gathering, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “I’m just really disappointed.”
This isn’t Callaway’s first offense, either. In January 2016, he and former Florida quarterback Treon Harris were accused of sexual assault by a fellow student and suspended from the football team during the school’s investigation.
While Callaway was ultimately cleared, the hearing officer assigned to the case, Jake Schickel, was a card-carrying Gators booster. The accuser, her attorney and some witnesses scheduled to testify were so incredulous that they boycotted the proceeding. From the outside, it stunk of preferential treatment for a star athlete.
When questioned by Schickel, Callaway admitted to being so high that he “had no interest in having sex with anyone.”
“Just really disappointed,” McElwain said. “And yet, at the same time, there’s another opportunity to learn. There’s another opportunity to educate. We’ll get it handled.”
Luckily for Callaway, his previous admission of pot use wasn’t enough to trigger the university’s substance-abuse policy. The latest episode is technically his first violation. Common sense points to the contrary, of course.
Based on McElwain’s track record, Callaway is a candidate for a one-game suspension. Running backs Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson were each cited similarly and sat out a contest as punishment. Scarlett missed the bowl game against Michigan two years ago, while Thompson was scratched for the Georgia game last season.
The Gators face the aforementioned Wolverines Sept. 2 in Arlington. Even at full strength, they’ll have their hands full with Jim Harbaugh and Co.
Callaway’s first two seasons in orange and blue, UF started out with the likes of New Mexico State and Massachusetts. In those two openers, both at home, he caught a total of 11 passes for 98 yards and 1 touchdown.
Instead of the comfy confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in the Sunshine State, this time Florida travels to AT&T Stadium in the Lone Star State. Even if Michigan lost a lot of starters off a team that went to the Orange Bowl, Harbaugh has resurrected a program that was going nowhere under the direction of Brady Hoke.
The Gators ranked 79th nationally in passing offense this past year. The Wolverines were No. 1 in passing defense.
Making matters worse, redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks will more than likely be making his first start. That assignment becomes all the more challenging if Callaway, clearly his primary target, is unavailable.
Nobody questions Callaway’s ability. Now a junior, there’s a strong possibility that 2017 will be his swan song at UF before he makes himself eligible a year early for the NFL Draft. Not only is he an explosive pass catcher, but he’s also a dangerous punt returner. He’s projected by some experts as a future first-round pick.
But nothing will sink an evaluation faster than character issues, and Callaway is doing himself no favors on that front.
From a numbers perspective, Callaway really hasn’t done anything super extraordinary. While he has led Florida in receiving yardage each of the last two seasons, his 1,399 yards through the air thus far is rather pedestrian.
However, he’s been saddled with one of the worst QB situations in the SEC. Will Grier only lasted half of 2015 before being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. Since then, Callaway has been forced to play with Harris, Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby. Franks may turn out to be better, but that’s not a high hurdle to jump.
If Franks does indeed live up to his 4-star potential, Callaway probably cracks the 1,000-yard plateau and earns all-conference honors.
That being said, Callaway’s issues aren’t on the field. It’s off the field where he can’t seem to get out of his own way. With so much time between the end of spring practice and the beginning of fall camp, this is apparently how he spends it.
Why Callaway is hanging around someone like Williams is a mystery, and a troubling one at that. He has been found guilty in the past on criminal mischief, marijuana and battery charges, plus he’s also been charged with possession of cocaine and soliciting a prostitute. Authorities searched his car once and turned up opiates and an AK-47.
Maybe a one-game suspension from McElwain won’t send a strong enough message, even if it’s a high-profile affair against Michigan.
Perhaps McElwain should make it a two-game ban instead to get Callaway’s attention. The Gators host overmatched Northern Colorado in Week 2, which is their final tuneup before league play commences in Week 3 with Tennessee at home.
Yes, UF’s chances of beating the Wolveries will be severely compromised without Callaway out of the lineup. But the Bears are an FCS opponent from the Big Sky Conference, so McElwain should be able to cover the spread with his scout team. Then when the Volunteers come to town, he’s at full strength again.
Moreover, this has to be Callaway’s last chance. If he screws up again, McElwain would be wise to cut the cord once and for all.