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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018
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Freshman Callaway gives UF a big-time playmaker

At Kentucky, his outrageous one-handed reception quickly became an Internet sensation.

Last weekend, on a fourth-and-14 play, he beat Tennessee on an amazing 63-yard catch-and-run, one of the most unforgettable moments in the University of Florida’s football history.

Just four games into his Gators career, freshman wide receiver Antonio Callaway already has achieved legendary status.

So many words could describe the impact Callaway has made on the No. 25-ranked Gators (4-0), who host the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels (4-0) on Saturday night.

Unfortunately, none of those words will come from Callaway himself. As a freshman — just months removed from Miami’s Booker T. Washington High — Callaway is prohibited from talking to the media because of UF program policy.

Meanwhile, everyone else is speaking volumes.

“We knew there was something special in this kid when we were recruiting him,’’ first-year Gators coach Jim McElwain said. “I don’t think he has even scratched the surface and he is still learning how to play.’’

“The young kid, my little brother, Callaway, he just made a (great) play,’’ UF quarterback Will Grier said. “He turned that first down into a touchdown. Big players make big plays in big games.’’

“He’s going to be something special,’’ Gators junior linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “He’s awesome. He took it to the house with that Miami-Dade speed.’’

Callaway, who had five receptions for 112 yards against Tennessee, was named the SEC Freshman of the Week. He became only the second true freshman in UF history to register a 100-yard receiving game.

His play ­— the now-famous “Train Right, Jill, Big Ben, In’’ — was meant to move the chains. But he quickly pivoted, losing a defensive back, racing down the right sideline, getting a beautiful clear-out block from Brandon Powell and roaring into the end zone.

It already ranks among the most unforgettable moments at Florida Field (“I just saw magic!’’ UF radio analyst Lee McGriff proclaimed). The short list probably includes Steve Spurrier’s field goal to beat Auburn in 1966, James Jones’ one-handed touchdown catch to topple Miami in 1982, Kerwin Bell’s two-point conversion run that completed a comeback from a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit against Auburn in 1986 and Jarvis Moss’ deflection of a final-play South Carolina field-goal attempt in 2006 that opened the door for a national title.

Callaway, a 5-foot-11, 206-pounder, played his first three seasons at Homestead High School before his transfer to Miami Booker T. Washington. Seven games into his senior season, he suffered a torn meniscus, ending his high-school career, but it didn’t scare away any of his suitors.

He kept everyone in suspense until National Signing Day, when he declared for the Gators.

“It’s the best place for me,’’ he said then. “And they need playmakers.’’

Callaway’s desires have seen an early payoff.

Last week, teammates were still marveling at his one-handed, 34-yard reception at Kentucky.

“Usually you catch the point (of the football), but he caught the fat part of the ball,’’ Gators junior receiver Ahmad Fullwood said. “When he tucked it, he didn’t even have it point to point. He had the fat part. Didn’t even break stride and just kept running like it was a normal catch.’’

Callaway has made the extraordinary seem normal. And that goes for his thoughts on Twitter. Even there, he goes deep.

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Please and thank you will take you far.

Humble yourself and more opportunities will open for you.

If you don’t have goals or things you want to achieve, what are you living for?

Question of the day: If money didn’t exist, would you still chase your dream?

Rare talent.

Rare mind.

“He’s a guy that, it’s really important to him,’’ McElwain said. “You can see his study. When you’re in practice, he doesn’t take a play off. He’s going to make a mistake here and there in practice, but he wants to correct it. And his team is important to him.

“Yeah, I kind of like No. 81.’’

Around Gator Nation, that’s likely a consensus.

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Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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