When Florida received a commitment from Antonio Callaway on National Signing Day this February, he was the lighter-regarded of the players the Gators reeled in on that day. It was through no real fault of his own, given that his fellow NSD commits included five-star players Martez Ivey and Cece Jefferson, considered consensus top-10 players in the 2015 recruiting class.
Through seven games this fall, however, it's not hyperbole to say Callaway has surpassed both of those players — and it might not be overstating the facts to call him one of Florida's best freshmen ever.
He's no workhorse, at least not yet, but seemingly all Callaway does is make game-changing plays. On Saturday at LSU, he made three big ones: A fantastic 48-yard catch-and-run that required both a one-handed juggling catch and fancy footwork on the sideline, a 72-yard punt return touchdown that tied the game late in the third quarter, and a 41-yard catch on a bomb from Treon Harris that kept Florida's final drive alive.
Callaway had a third catch on the day, and it got him to an even 100 receiving yards for the night. His second 100-yard receiving night of the 2015 season puts him in the company of just one true freshman in program history:
Callaway and Reidel Anthony (in 1994) are the only #Gators true freshmen to have 100-yd receiving games. Both did it twice.— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 18, 2015
And if Callaway had made a fourth catch — by somehow reeling in a leaping attempt between two LSU defenders, one of whom pawed the ball out of Callaway's grasp on a potential go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter — he could have been this game's unquestioned hero.
The punt return TD that tied the game, and gave Callaway a shot to make that go-ahead catch, put him in the company of a different famous Gators freshman:
Antonio Callaway's 72-yard punt return was the first by a #Gators true freshman since Brandon James in 2006.— Chris Harry (@GatorsChris) October 18, 2015
Oh, and Callaway had the best block of the night, a perfectly clean shoulder-to-chest shot to clear room for Demarcus Robinson on a 38-yard catch.
Frankly, being mentioned with either Anthony or James alone would be incredible; Callaway's now in the same breath as both, and that's more on the basis of this phenomenal night than either his game-winning performance against Tennessee or his one-hander against Kentucky.
There are already only a precious few freshmen (Anthony and Percy Harvin come to mind as receivers and playmakers, Tim Tebow's freshman year was the stuff of legend, and Emmitt Smith might not be topped for production) who have arguably been better than Callaway in Florida history — and he might get seven or eight more games to add more highlights to his reel.
He may have been an afterthought in February, but midway through October, Callaway is having an unforgettable year.