GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain huddled his team together on Friday before the Gators’ first scrimmage of fall camp to give them the news.
Seven players — including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway — were suspended from team activities until further notice and would not play in Florida’s season opener against Michigan on Sept. 2.
It was a stunning blow for a team looking to start the season on the right foot after winning the SEC East in each of McElwain’s first two seasons.
“It’s my teammates,” offensive lineman Martez Ivey said. “I just hope they get the help they need. I’ll be excited when they come back.”
But with or without those seven players, there was a scrimmage to be played that night, practices to work through that weekend, and, ultimately, a season opener for which to prepare.
“I mean, we treat it just like any other day,” wide receiver Brandon Powell said Tuesday. “We go out and work. We’ve got everybody here for a reason. We have players everywhere.
“It’s just next man up.”
That will need to be the mindset as the Gators move forward with fall practice.
And to Powell, Florida still has enough pieces to be successful, especially with its talented but unproven wide receiver corps.
Powell, a senior, is Florida’s most experienced receiver. In 38 games (23 starts), the shifty 5-foot-9 surehanded receiver has 924 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns on 89 career catches. He’s best suited to play in the slot but also has the ability to play on the outside.
He showed off his skills in the team’s scrimmage on Friday, catching a long touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks.
Surrounding Powell at receiver is a long list of players with the potential for breakout seasons, including junior Dre Massey; sophomores Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain; and freshmen Daquon Green, James Robinson and Kadarius Toney.
“We have a lot of playmakers everywhere,” Powell said. “[Callaway is] just one player.”
And the actions of one player — or seven, in this case — don’t define the team, the players said.
So for the time being, the Gators plan to work with who they have and go from there.
“We’ve been handling it real good,” defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. “Things happen. It’s just next man up. You’ve just got to play with what you’ve got and you’ve got to try to make the best of it either way it goes. Just got to battle on with what you have.”