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Matt Elam, Antonio Callaway looking for NFL chances at Florida Gators’ pro day

"It’s what you do with that second chance. That defines what type of person you really are."
Matt Elam's NFL career stalled after four rough years. His search for another chance led him to Florida's pro day. [ TIMES FILE ]

GAINESVILLE — The two first-round talents took the field together for Florida's pro day in different stages of their career, looking for the same thing.

One more chance.

In orange was safety Matt Elam, a first-round pick out of UF in 2013. His NFL career stalled after four subpar, injury-plagued seasons with the Ravens and a pair of arrests.

In blue was receiver Antonio Callaway, who was supposed to be a first-round pick next month. His college career ended after three off-field incidents that cost him millions and could knock him out of the draft entirely.

The two troubled talents trained together in south Florida during the 15-month offseason neither saw coming. They jumped and ran alongside each other Wednesday in front of an NFL contingent headlined by Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

"One second," Elam said.

Elam, 26, was standing on the sidelines afterward, still breathing heavily from the workout. He needed a moment to pull up his Gators shirt and wipe his head.

Not because of the sweat.

Because of the tears.

"I'm emotional," Elam said.

Elam last took the field on Jan. 1, 2017. He didn't record a statistic in a season-ending loss to Lewis' Bengals.

A month later, Elam was arrested on a marijuana complaint. The Ravens declined to pick up the fifth year option on a player they chose No. 32 overall, which might have had more to do with his performance on the field (54 tackles and two major injuries in his final three years) than one incident off it.

Then Elam was arrested, again, three months after that, on complaints of theft and battery. Both cases were eventually dropped, so he kept waiting for an NFL team to call with a contract offer.

His phone never rang.

Elam spent the fall selling sporting goods at Dick's in Fort Lauderdale and watching former UF teammates Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal shine in NFL secondaries.

Former Florida Gators and Baltimore Ravens defensive back Matt Elam pauses to collect his emotions after UF's pro day. [ MATT BAKER | TIMES ]
Former Florida Gators and Baltimore Ravens defensive back Matt Elam pauses to collect his emotions after UF’s pro day. [ MATT BAKER | TIMES ]
“Seeing them guys ball out, man, hurt me because I knew they looked up to me…” Elam said. “I let a lot of people down.”

Callaway did, too.

RELATED: Mike Mayock: Gators' Antonio Callaway a third-day NFL draft pick

He last took the field a day on Jan. 2, 2017 — a day after Elam. Callaway caught seven passes for 55 yards in that Outback Bowl win over Iowa.

He figured to be one of the SEC's top returning players as a junior. Maybe he could have been an All-American, like Elam was in 2012.

But Callaway got in trouble, again, less than 13 months after being cleared of a sexual assault accusation. He was cited for marijuana possession, then hit with felony complaints stemming from the Gators' credit card fraud scandal. He never played another snap at UF.

"That experience right there, taking football, me away from the game I love, it humbled me," said Callaway, 21.

The similarities between Callaway and Elam start to end there.

Elam was willing to discuss, and accept, his past. He said his first-round status made him complacent on the field. He made "immature" and "childish" mistakes off it. He was grateful UF let him work out Wednesday, because he didn't know if he'd ever get another shot at the league.

"I was down on myself and the mistakes I made," Elam said. "But it's time to put that behind me, be great and grow up and be a man."

Callaway didn't want to look back at all.

He said the media incorrectly portrayed him as a bad person. He insists he's not — only that he was "young" and "dumb." Whichever team takes him, Callaway said, won't regret it.

RELATED: Suspended receiver Antonio Callaway says to blame him for Gators season, loss of coach Jim McElwain

"I don't dwell on it or nothing," Callaway said. "It happened. It happened. I can't cry over spilled milk."

Both Elam and Callaway have other reasons to grow up.

Callaway became a father earlier this year to a little girl, Aulani. Elam wants his 16-year-old nephew, four-star cornerback Kaair Elam, to avoid his missteps.

The best way to help them isn't through words. It's through actions.

Starting with one more chance.

"I feel like people make mistakes," Elam said. "It's what you do with that second chance. That defines what type of person you really are."

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