Spring practice hasn’t started yet, but the Gators already are without two important offensive players who have been suspended.
Florida coach Jim McElwain revealed Tuesday that sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway and junior quarterback Treon Harris have not been with the team since January and will miss spring football. McElwain did not give a reason for their absence, and declined to say whether they were suspended or give a timeline for their return.
A UF spokesman later said Callaway and Harris have been suspended. Both players are still on Florida’s official roster posted on its website.
“We’re without a couple of guys who haven’t been with our team since January in Treon and Antonio,” McElwain said during his press conference scheduled to preview spring practice. “They’re still doing some school work and that kind of stuff. But they haven’t been with us since January and they won’t be with us as we’re rolling, so you won’t see those guys out there at practice. Guys, that will be the last that we talk about that.”
The news is a big blow for the Gators as they begin spring practice Wednesday.
Callaway and Harris are from Miami . Although both played at Booker T. Washington, their time there never overlapped as Callaway transferred in from Homestead High just before his senior season and Harris already was a freshman at Florida.
But they got to know each other while Treon’s brother, Tim Harris, served as Callaway’s coach at Booker T. Washington.
As Florida hopes to build an improved offense in time for the 2016 season, the absence of Callaway and Harris will hurt that process.
Callaway is coming off a stellar freshman season and is expected to be Florida’s primary weapon this season. He finished his freshman campaign with 35 catches for a team-high 678 yards and four touchdowns.
Those impressive numbers were enough for Callaway to break Florida’s true freshman receiving record held for 21 years by former Glades Central star Reidel Anthony, who had 615 yards in 1994.
With Callaway away from the team this spring, the Gators are going to have to rely on returning players such as senior Ahmad Fulwood, junior C.J. Worton, senior Chris Thompson and junior Alvin Bailey to step up. It also helps that four-star freshmen receivers Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond already are enrolled and set to participate in spring practice, with coveted four-star receiver signee Tryie Cleveland on the way for fall practice.
“We need Ahmad to step up,” McElwain said. “We need some other guys at the wide receiver spot, obviously with the three young guys that are in that are new. You look at a guy like Bailey that needs to take some leadership role there and say it’s time to go. It should be a lot of fun when you see those guys out there running around and competing. Chris Thompson’s got to be one of those guys as well, as we kind of go.”
But it will be tough for any of those players to replace the playmaking ability Callaway brought to the position. None of those returning players have recorded more than 199 receiving yards in a single college season.
The loss of Harris might not hurt as much, but he is the most experienced quarterback on Florida’s roster in terms of college games played. Harris has played in 21 games over his first two college seasons, and Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby is second with 17 games under his belt.
But it might not have mattered. Harris, who ended last season as the Gators’ starting quarterback, reportedly spent time at wide receiver during offseason workouts before his suspension.
Harris began last season competing for the starting quarterback job and became the full-time starter after Will Grier was suspended during the season for a violation of the NCAA’s policy for performance-enhancing drugs. Harris completed 50.6 percent of his passes for 1,676 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
“Possibly,” McElwain answered when asked if Harris would switch positions when he returns from his suspension. “We’ll see. We’ll talk about it when it happens.”
That leaves Appleby, Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio and freshman early enrollees Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask battling it out for the starting quarterback job.
Del Rio, who was ineligible to play for the Gators last season due to NCAA transfer rules, is considered the early favorite in part because of his familiarity with Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s offense. The redshirt junior also played under Nussmeier when the two were at Alabama in 2013 — before Del Rio transferred to Oregon State.
“[Del Rio] has been here obviously and been learning,” McElwain said. “He and Austin have done an outstanding job together with those two young guys, Feleipe and Kyle. I’m excited to see routes on air.”
However, it doesn’t look like McElwain will be seeing Callaway or Harris participating in those “routes on air” this spring. McElwain repeatedly shot down questions asking for details regarding the duo’s absence.
This is Harris’ third suspension as a Gator. He was suspended from team activities as a freshman amid accusations of sexual battery, but he was reinstated after the allegations were withdrawn, and served a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules last season. This marks Callaway’s first suspension as a Gator.
“They just haven’t been with the team,” McElwain said. “That will be the last we talk about it.”