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GAINESVILLE — A smiley face emoticon and two hands clasped in a prayer following Antonio Callaway’s tweet summarized the UF junior receiver’s delight and disbelief.“My first spring in college begins today,” Callaway wrote Monday.After two seasons...

UF receiver Antonio Callaway savors first spring practices with Gators

GAINESVILLE — A smiley face emoticon and two hands clasped in a prayer following Antonio Callaway’s tweet summarized the UF junior receiver’s delight and disbelief.“My first spring in college begins today,” Callaway wrote Monday.After two seasons...

UF receiver Antonio Callaway savors first spring practices with Gators

GAINESVILLE — A smiley face emoticon and two hands clasped in a prayer following Antonio Callaway’s tweet summarized the UF junior receiver’s delight and disbelief.

“My first spring in college begins today,” Callaway wrote Monday.

After two seasons as the Gators’ top playmaker, Callaway finally will have 15 spring practices to hone his craft, condition his body and develop chemistry with UF’s quarterbacks as he prepared for the biggest season of his career.

“As competitive as he is, he really wants to be the best he can be,” UF coach Jim McElwain said Tuesday. “He’s feeling now that he’s getting there with having a full offseason.”

Following his breakout freshman season in 2015, Callaway was poised for a huge sophomore campaign. Instead, he sat out last spring due to a semester-long suspension amid sexual battery allegations.

Callaway eventually was found not responsible, but he never made up the lost time. Opponents keyed on Callaway and his lack of preparation led to a solid, yet sporadic sophomore season.

Callaway clearly was ready to turn the page on Tuesday, when spring practices officially opened.

“You look at his body now,” McElwain marveled. “Even just having the offseason that he's been able to have has been really, really good. This is his first spring ball, and to see how he attacked it out there — just having him out there is kind of that security blanket a little bit.”

Callaway should be the best friend of whoever emerges as UF’s starting quarterback.

The Miami native can work routes underneath, run with speed and power after the catch and stretch the field — a skill-set no UF receiver can match.

Mike Bianchi credits University of Florida athletic director for not hiring Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze

Mike Bianchi credits University of Florida athletic director for not hiring Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze

Mike Bianchi credits University of Florida athletic director for not hiring Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze

Mike Bianchi credits University of Florida athletic director for not hiring Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze

The Gators are ranked No. 15 and riding a seven-game winning streak. But coach Mike White's team suffered a major blow Tuesday at Auburn when center John Egbunu tore his left ACL to end his season.

The Gators are ranked No. 15 and riding a seven-game winning streak. But coach Mike White's team suffered a major blow Tuesday at Auburn when center John Egbunu tore his left ACL to end his season.

UF men's golf coach J.C. Deacon had high hopes entering the 2016 postseason. But the Gators fizzled. Deacon and his players feel like they are a closer and better team because of this experiences. 

UF men's golf coach J.C. Deacon had high hopes entering the 2016 postseason. But the Gators fizzled. Deacon and his players feel like they are a closer and better team because of this experiences. 

UF PG Kasey Hill's improvement and consistency has been a big key to the Gators' success. Hill looks to bounce back from an uncharacteristically poor outing vs. Texas A&M (three points, five turnovers).

UF PG Kasey Hill's improvement and consistency has been a big key to the Gators' success. Hill looks to bounce back from an uncharacteristically poor outing vs. Texas A&M (three points, five turnovers).

UF's five-game winning streak was in jeopardy. But following a timeout the Gators came alive against Texas A&M and rode the play of some of the team's veteran players to a 71-62 victory.

UF's five-game winning streak was in jeopardy. But following a timeout the Gators came alive against Texas A&M and rode the play of some of the team's veteran players to a 71-62 victory.

“I'm always learning stuff from Callaway,” senior Brandon Powell said.

Callaway, 20, himself has been learning on the fly his entire UF career.

The 5-foot-11, 197-pound Callaway’s physical gifts have helped him overcome less-than-ideal offseason preparation.

Those days are over.

“It's important for him because he'll have the playbook fresh in his head,” tailback Jordan Scarlett said. “You know all the other times he'll hop straight into camp and we're learning new installs and it's kind of hard for him.”

Callaway still managed. In two seasons under McElwain, he has more catches (89), receiving yards (1,399) and total touchdowns (11) than any UF receiver.

Next season, Callaway will anchor a unit with more potential and depth than in recent seasons.

Powell, who caught 45 passes last season, sophomore deep-threat Tyrie Cleveland and junior speedster Dre Massey, who tore an ACL during the 2016 season opener, lead the way.

“We've got Florida speed out there,” McElwain said.

It was on display early Tuesday.

On the fourth play of spring practice, Cleveland caught a perfect throw along the sideline from quarterback Feleipe Franks for a touchdown.

“Those guys aren’t afraid to throw the ball down the field, no doubt about it,” McElwain said of Franks and fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask. “We’ve got a couple guys that can chase it down. I think we’ve got a chance to really push the ball down the field.”

No will be pushing harder than Callaway. It’s early, but he’s already making his presence felt.

“It’s just helping us out and making us better as a team,” said left tackle Martez Ivey of Apopka. “He’s stepped up and he’s being a leader; he’s being more vocal as a player.”

egthompson@orlandosentinel.com

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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