GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway comes across shy and very soft-spoken for a player of his stature. He talks quietly and rarely needs more than a short sentence or two to convey his thoughts.
Or, at least, those that he’s willing to share.
Callaway was made available for a post-practice interview Tuesday for the first time all year and discussed a range of topics — briefly.
In regard to his offseason ordeal, in which he was ultimately cleared in August following the university’s Title IX investigation regarding allegations of sexual assault against him, he talked about how his teammates supported him.
“They told me to just keep working. Don’t give up. Just keep working,” he said.
As for everything since he returned to the football field for the Gators — after being suspended from January until rejoining the team for preseason camp — he said it hasn’t quite been the follow-up season he had hoped for after a breakout freshman campaign.
“It’s been going all right. Not how I expected, but it’s going good. It’s all right,” he said.
Callaway leads the No. 22 Gators (6-2, 4-2 SEC) with 31 catches for 485 yards and 2 touchdowns, but most of that production came early in the season. With defenses keying on him and Florida’s quarterback play struggling, he hasn’t topped 4 catches or 44 yards in any of the last four games.
He finished his freshman season with 35 catches for 678 yards and 4 receiving touchdowns and opened this fall with 17 catches for 335 yards and 2 scores through his first three games.
It’s not the fault of the game plan those numbers have tailed off, he said.
“Coach Nuss (offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is) doing a pretty good job with getting me involved. You know, drawing up some schemes to get me the ball, but sometimes the play don’t … we don’t execute a play, get developed, so I can’t get the ball,” Callaway said.
He added that he doesn’t feel like he’s had one-on-one coverage all fall. That and the Gators’ 31-10 stumble last Saturday at Arkansas have made this something of a frustrating sophomore season for him.
“The losing part. That wasn’t part of the plans. I ain’t used to losing,” he said.
The positive: “I made school history, first player to score five different ways. It felt good,” he said.
Callaway accomplished that with a rushing touchdown against Georgia, having already scored on a kick return touchdown on an onside attempt by Missouri this season, two punt return scores and a passing touchdown last year and plenty of receiving scores.
He reiterated his optimism that his opportunities for more of those big strikes in the passing game will open up once Florida’s gets “everyone on one page.”
That’s something of a discouraging statement about the state of the offense this late into the season, but Gators wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon added that the coaches are indeed trying to feed their top playmaker.
“I think we’re one person away on each play. I think that’s where the continuity part comes from,” Dixon said Wednesday. “But he’s actually done a good job of developing, understanding the playbook a lot better. He just has to focus on doing his job at 100 percent every single time, and once we get that on accord and get everybody clicking we should produce.”
In fairness to Callaway’s limited comments on his situation and the investigation over the summer, he wasn’t pressed with any further questions.
Dixon, though, spoke of the impact that experience had on the sophomore.
“Well, I always tell the guys adversity builds character, and that’s a young man that’s been through a lot in his life,” he said. “He has had friends to go through certain things coming up, how he grew up down in South Florida. He’s been through a lot in his young life, and the more he grows and the more he understands life and the adversities that come the better he’ll be.”
That matter didn’t strain the coaches’ confidence in Callaway, who added that he and McElwain remain very close.
“I can go to him for anything, outside of football. I can talk to him. You trust him,” he said.
Callaway was surely happy to move on from the summer and get back to football, even if this season has been more frustrating in some ways than he expected.
In addition to being limited in the passing attack the last four games, he has struggled all season on punt returns between multiple fumbles and a couple head-scratching fair catches inside the 5-yard line.
“I’m trying to run without the ball. I see a hole, but I’m trying to leave without the ball,” he said. “It’s always, it’ll be like one block away or one man away. It’s going to click.”
The Gators are hoping that’s the case — for their top playmaker and for the offense in general.
“You know, it’s always frustrating when (potential big plays don’t get executed as planned), but you know, we just go out and try to get better every single week,” Dixon said. “Every week is a different week, so now is another opportunity for us to go out and draw those plays up and try to get it to him.”