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Florida suspends seven players for season opener vs. Michigan, led by Antonio Callaway

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Jim McElwain responds to an “extremely disappointing” choice with some consequences.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Florida vs Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators have suspended seven players, led by junior standout Antonio Callaway, for their 2017 season opener against the Michigan Wolverines, the program announced Sunday.

The players in question are Callaway, a wide receiver; junior defensive end Keivonnis Davis; redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones; redshirt freshman linebacker James Houston IV; freshman linebacker Ventrell Miller; redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jordan Smith; and freshman offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort.

Florida coach Jim McElwain’s statement on the players does not detail their misdeeds, dubbing them “choices that are extremely disappointing.”

"We have a small group of players that have made some choices that are extremely disappointing. Action has been taken – they have missed some practice and will miss the Michigan game. We will use this as a learning opportunity and we will have some players step up as we move forward."

Rumors and unconfirmed reporting from non-reporters and outlets well removed from the Florida beat had flared since early Saturday, heralding possible trouble involving a group of Florida players, with Callaway’s name prominently included.

But a source told Alligator Army on Saturday that some of the details of those reports were erroneous, though that source also informed Alligator Army that Callaway, at least, was indefinitely suspended — a change in his status, given that Callaway was previously understood to not be suspended despite being cited for possession of marijuana earlier this year.

Late Saturday, Trey Wallace and Oliver Connolly reported at The Read Optional that “several” Florida players were facing internal punishment over “misuse of school funds,” describing a scheme in which players “purchase(d) electronic products with school-issued debit cards before selling them for cash.”

In his Sunday story on Florida announcing suspensions, Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports reported that they “stem from a misuse of school-issued funds intended for specific use.”

Some of the players involved used the funds from part of their scholarship agreement to buy electronics equipment, then later reported the cards stolen. Some players sold the electronics equipment purchased with the school-issued funds.

Sources informed GatorBait.net that the purchases have been either returned or the school funds used will be paid back by the athletes.

Portions of those reports match what a source detailed to Alligator Army on Saturday.

McElwain will assuredly be questioned thoroughly about his players’ actions at his next press availability, but it is unlikely that there will be any further detailing of those actions from Florida’s end until then.

If the seven players’ actions are more or less as described — a discovered fraud involving misuse of scholarship funds, with either or both of a) the fradulently acquired products having since having been returned or b) Florida having been reimbursed for any misuse — it is unlikely that the players involved will face any criminal discipline or NCAA eligibility issues.

Of the seven players suspended, Callaway is by far the most important to the Gators’ chances of winning football games. The junior playmaker was Florida’s leading receiver in 2017 and is regarded as one of the better upperclassmen wide receivers in college football, with his future likely to include a selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.

But a pattern of poor choices on Callaway’s part will give NFL teams doubts about making that selection. Whatever led to this suspension follows that citation for possession and, far more seriously, a much-publicized offseason suspension in 2016 stemming from an alleged sexual assault that led to Callaway being cleared through a controversial Title IX hearing that Callaway’s alleged victim boycotted over claims of impropriety.

The other six players set to miss Florida’s game at Cowboys Stadium — and possibly the trip to it — are all far less accomplished on the field than Callaway.

Davis has seen the most action among them, appearing in 13 games and starting five on Florida’s defensive line in 2016, but he was expected to split time at defensive end — at best — with the established CeCe Jefferson and rising Antonneous Clayton in 2017, and it is unclear whether he was a projected starter for this team.

The remaining five Florida players are all projected reserves or redshirt candidates. Desir-Jones, the only other player of the seven who was part of Florida’s 2015 recruiting class with Callaway and Davis, redshirted in 2015 and played sparingly as an offensive lineman in 2016 before transitioning to the defensive line this offseason. Houston and Smith redshirted in 2016, and are likely to be reserves at their positions; Miller and Telfort are true freshmen, both arriving at Florida this summer, and both are seen as candidates to redshirt this fall.

Of the seven players, only Miller, who hails from Lakeland, and Smith, who came to Florida from Georgia, are from outside South Florida. Callaway, Davis, and Telfort are all listed as being from Miami on Florida’s official roster, while Desir-Jones and Houston are listed as being from Fort Lauderdale.