GAINESVILLE, Fla. — By signing with an agent, suspended wide receiver Antonio Callaway made it official this week that he won’t play another game at Florida.
As for securing an opportunity in the NFL, he’ll now try to maximize these next few months with regard to both training and repairing his image after a series of off-the-field issues with the Gators.
To help both causes, Callaway is set to move to Atlanta on Monday and live with agent Mel Bratton, a running back for the Miami Hurricanes in the late 1980s who went on to work as a pro talent evaluator with the Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams.
“I told him how it’s going to be. I live in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s going to train up here in Atlanta. Actually, he’s moving in with me and my family and he’ll be here training the whole entire time,” Bratton told SEC Country. “It’s just a male bonding thing as far as me being from where he’s from. I’m from the city, I’m from the hood. I’ve been there and know temptation and certain things are going to happen.”
Bratton said a close friend who has known Callaway since he was a 6-7 years old reached out to him a few weeks ago, so he flew to Miami to meet with the wide receiver and his family.
“I take the kids that match my personality. … I don’t chase everybody like that. They’ve got to fit me,” Bratton said. “… He was really hurt by all the stuff that [happened]. He never got into any kind of nothing in high school and he got to Florida and had these few bumps in the road, I should say, but overall he’s a good kid. When I met with him, as a former personnel guy, I grilled him on everything that he’s going to have to talk about at the combine and at his pro day and with teams.”
On the field, Callaway was a proven playmaker at Florida while combining for 1,399 yards and 7 touchdowns receiving along with a rushing touchdown, 2 punt return touchdowns and a kickoff return for touchdown over his freshman and sophomore seasons.
He led the Gators in receiving yards both seasons, but he had several issues off the field.
He was cleared in a university Title IX investigation into a sexual assault allegation dating to December of 2015, but that matter led to a university suspension for the spring semester after his debut season.
Callaway returned to the Gators last summer and resumed his role as the offensive’s top target last fall, but last May he was cited for marijuana possession after being stopped in a car with a 40-year-old career criminal. Callaway eventually pleaded no contest to possession of paraphernalia, receiving a $301 fine and was not expected to face an in-season suspension from former coach Jim McElwain.
That is, until the credit card fraud matter that led to indefinite suspensions for Callaway and eight teammates, costing him his entire junior season. According to police reports, Callaway used stolen credit card information to spend $2,020, including buying a MacBook Pro and Beats wireless headphones.
He was one of seven suspended players to receive pretrial intervention, meaning if he meets the requirements laid out by the State Attorney’s Office, the recommended felony charges would be dismissed.
Florida, meanwhile, has yet to announce a decision on the futures of any of the suspended players, and Bratton did not clarify if Callaway had received indication from the university on his status before deciding to pursue the NFL draft.
“With the coaching change and everything else, him and his mom they talked about it and he felt it was best to take his game [to the NFL],” Bratton said. “He wants to get his message out that he apologizes to the Gator Nation. I know there’s a lot of negative, bitter stuff with the Gator Nation. He’s very sorry to McElwain and [former defensive coordinator] Randy Shannon. … He loved Randy Shannon to death, and he really was very remorseful as far as that. He takes this season on as his fault for them getting fired, and he’s said that to me.”
Callaway will have to convince NFL decision-makers that his off-the-field issues are behind him as well.
It’s hard to know how NFL teams will evaluate him as a result. Callaway is listed at 5-foot-10, 193 pounds on the Florida roster, and it will be interesting to see his official measurements at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Five of the 14 wide receivers drafted in the first three rounds last year were under 6-feet tall, but none shorter than Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel (5-foot-10 and 5/8 inches).
Bratton got his start in the NFL as an area scout in the Pacific Northwest for the Falcons under then-coach Dan Reeves. He later became the director of pro personnel for the Redskins under coach Norv Turner and later an advanced pro scout for the Rams under Mike Martz.
He says he’s received strong feedback from his contacts in the league about Callaway’s draft stock based on his film and abilities, which of course is now only part of the equation with the wide receiver.
“This is no BS. I’m very close with a lot of my guys in the league and I called them before I took the kid and said, ‘Listen, where do you have this kid?'” Bratton said. “One particular scout, he’s hard, he’s a tough [evaluator]. He basically said, ‘This kid is a top-15 pick. We’ve got a top-15 grade on him.’ And the other two teams, nobody said less than [Round] 1. Nobody. So where all these articles are coming out [that] he’s a late-round, free agent, fifth-round, whatever like that, they’re doing it on the character deal. He’s a real reserved kid. He’s very quiet, and that’s the thing I have to work on because he has to speak up.”
Bratton says he has a reputation to protect in his dealings with teams and wouldn’t take on Callaway as a client if he didn’t believe in him — on and off the field.
He was sold in his meeting with Callaway’s family, and now together they will try to sell NFL teams on the wide receiver’s reward-over-risk potential.
That means changing the perception that many may have at this point.
“He’s not that kid. I met his mom, he has four siblings, four sisters, he’s the oldest and [he’s a] real family guy,” Bratton said. “He’s not from a bad household. Sometimes you’ve got that rough, rough kid that’s a real thug in a sense like that, just grew up on nothing. He’s not that kid. That persona has been painted on him as far as being a guy he’s not. I’ve gotten a chance to know the family and him to interact with him. I’m very selective as far as taking on [clients]. I get calls all the time, and I try to help a lot of guys. I’m not saying what he did was right. …
“With him signing, it helps him. Because coaches and scouts, they know me, they’re going to call and ask, ‘What kind of kid am I getting?’ I can’t lie to them. I’m going to have kids next year, the year after, whatever, so I can’t sell them a bag of [nonsense] because they’re not going to trust me.”
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