Florida receivers coach Kerry Dixon has known Antonio Callaway for longer than most college coaches. Dixon, then at Florida International, was the second college coach to give Callaway a scholarship offer. He already signed ones of Callaway’s best friends to play for the Panthers, and he thought Callaway could be the next player from Homestead High School to play at FIU.
Callaway transferred to Booker T. Washington High School for his senior year, and the relationship with Dixon continued. However, offers started to pour in from major programs like Florida and Miami. He was still raw as a receiver, but Dixon started to see the upside even when he was a junior in high school.
“Everyone was surprised initially with his athletic ability and how well he plays the game,” Dixon said. I” can remember it even from his recruitment process. That was something I saw on his junior film. It’s starting to show up.”
It showed up in a major way on Saturday. Callaway, who currently leads the Gators with 172 receiving yards, ended the game with five catches for 112 yards and the go-ahead, 63-yard touchdown to secure Florida’s 11th straight win over Tennessee. He ran a good route to get open, caught the ball and sprinted to the sideline, using a block from Brandon Powell to spring the play or a touchdown.
There were signs well before Saturday that Callaway had a chance to make an impact immediately. Even during summer workouts when coaches weren’t allowed to watch, Dixon heard from older players that the freshman was standing out and looked capable of helping the team in his first season.
“When he came in you could hear the players talk a lot about how he was doing this summer, which was huge,” Dixon said. “Now that he’s starting to understand the game and the importance of route running and how to get separation it’s helping him to really grow and become what I saw from him as a junior.”
The constant improvement has been aided by Callaway’s work ethic.
“He actually comes in on his own to watch film and learn techniques, how to run routes and you’re starting to see that start to show up,” Dixon said. “I’m really excited about him and his future.”
While Callaway starts to emerge as the Gators’ best receiver, junior Demarcus Robinson is trying to improve after a disappointing start to the year. Last season, Robinson had the most productive season by a Florida receiver since 2009, but he has struggled to carry that over. The Florida coaches want to see better effort and are finding ways to show Robinson how good he can be if the junior wants to make it happen on the field.
“We bring Demarcus in every week and sit down with him one-on-one, show him some NFL film and some things he has done well, as well as some things he has done bad to try to help him in all aspects of the game,” Dixon said. “Sometimes he loafs off the ball, but we bring him in and show him how fast he can really run and how he can get better and how that scares defenders.
“We’re working with him every day, trying to get him better, trying to get him to hold his techniques. You already know he’s had different receivers coaches every year. With that comes some inconsistency and different thoughts. The more we work with him and the more we sit him down, I think he’s going to continue to grow and get better.”
Seventh receiver coach in seven years
Shortly after National Signing Day, Dixon received a phone call from Florida linebackers coach Randy Shannon. They talked about the open receivers position job at Florida, and the next day, it was Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier on the phone with Dixon.
Florida coach Jim McElwain didn’t bring up the inconsistency at the position in recent years at Florida. Dixon was aware he would be the seventh receiver coach in seven years at Florida, but the two sides didn’t talk about it until Dixon already accepted the job and was in Gainesville.
When he started working with the Florida receivers, Dixon started to see that all of the turnovers in recent years hurt the players at the position.
“It’s interesting that (people) say lack of talent because I had to hear that a lot, the lack of talent at the position,” Dixon said of the Florida receivers. “When I look at it it’s not a lack of talent, it’s a lack of consistency. Any time you have that much turnover at one spot, those guys are hearing so much different stuff and they’re being taught totally different things all the time.
“They’re looking at it as the receivers are bad. I don’t think that’s really the case, I think it was really just the lack of consistency. And if you have consistency in your life, the more you can produce.
Accountability for drops
McElwain’s frustration with the receivers was loud and clear during the offseason. They struggled with drops and lacked the concentration to fix it. Four games into the season, it hasn’t been that much of a problem for the Florida receivers.
Dixon credits some adjustments to their practice schedule and their plan in the meeting room. When practices is over, the receivers are putting extra work in with the JUGS machine and in a rebounding drill, encouraging players to attack the ball in the air and catch it.
In the meeting room, the coaches chart drops. They have a scoreboard with the number of drops next to each player’s name for accountability.
“There’s no callouts because everybody already sees it,” Dixon said. “You know where you have to work and you know where you have to improve. Everybody in that room sees it as well. It’s accountability. You have to own up to it and get better at it."