After sitting out Week 1 with a shoulder sprain, USF running back Quinton Callum had to wait until the second quarter of the second game this year to get his first touch as a Division I football player.
What few people know is that he had really been waiting for that moment since 1999. After a stand-out senior season at Columbia High School in Lake City, Callum was red-flagged for academic reasons and had to put his dream on hold for two years.
“I guess God was putting me through some things. I don’t regret it, because I’m glad I’m here,” he said.
In 1998, Callum, playing on both sides of the ball as running back as well as defensive back, rushed for 1,346 yards and 25 touchdowns on 188 carries, leading his Columbia Tigers to the Class 6A state final. He was injured before halftime in that game and had to watch his teammates lose a close contest. Callum also participated in the annual Florida-Georgia High School All-Star Game in which he recovered a fumble and scored on a two-point conversion in a Florida loss.
His production on the field led at least one recruiting service to rate him as the state’s best athlete and virtually every major program in the South, including Florida, Florida State, Central Florida, Miami and Virginia Tech, recruited him.
He liked his chances behind Travis Minor (now with the Miami Dolphins) at Florida State and signed with the Seminoles. However, he was red-flagged after an insufficient ACT test score and opted to attend a junior college. At Jones Junior College in Mississippi, he rushed for over 800 yards and scored eight touchdowns, but he was not where he wanted to be. USF running backs coach Leroy Ryals said that experience helped Callum to mature.
“It was an advantage because he got a chance to mature as a person and a young man, and I think that that outweighs the disadvantages,” Ryals said.
Callum had a hard time dealing with his fate. Not being able to play after a tremendous senior year was quite a disappointment.
“My life went down so quickly at one time,” he said. “Everything was good and then reality hit me. I was sort of devastated, but I have a strong family, a real close family. They got me through it.”
Callum is the oldest of five children and his parents are separated.
“My mother is the backbone of my family. I can express myself to her,” Callum said.
Unhappy with the plans the coaches at Jones had for him and in order to maintain one more year of four-year college eligibility, Callum opted not to play in 2000 and instead worked on getting his associate of arts degree as quickly as he could.
Having earned his AA degree, the 21-year-old weighed his options. After evaluating the depth FSU had acquired at running back while he was sitting out, Callum chose not to play for the Seminoles and instead became a Bull this past August.
“When I signed with (FSU) originally in ’98, Minor was the only running back, so I was coming in second on the depth chart already,” he said. “But when I came out of (junior college) the depth chart was so deep and I couldn’t see myself getting in the rotation. I like my chances here.”
Columbia coach Danny Green described his former player as a “humble guy, very likeable, always talking,” and said he was “very proud of how he dealt with his situation.”
So far, he has shared playing time with Clenton Crossley, Derrick Rackard and Vince Brewer.
“Coach (Jim Leavitt) told us that we have so much depth, so much talent. Everybody is different, has a different style of running. (Whoever plays) depends on what (play) we’re running, or what formation we’re going into,” said Callum.
Ryals explained some of Callum’s attributes.
“He’s very light on his feet, quick, has good hips, good vision,” said Ryals, describing the 5’11”, 205-pounder’s abilities. ” … His weakness is inexperience. He just hasn’t been there yet. He just got here in August. He needs to catch up with everybody, but he’s making great strides.”
Depth at running back and an adjustment to a new offense have kept Callum from establishing himself as the Bulls’ go-to back.
“I’ve been waiting to get to a Division I program and to prove what I can do, and I told coach Leavitt that when he first came to sign me that I want to prove to him that I can be a top-notch running back here, and not play a role,” Callum said.
On the season, Callum has 32 carries for 162 yards and six kick returns for 91 yards in six games. On the field, he is outspoken and confident but Ryals said Callum’s off-field demeanor is quite different.
“He’s a very quiet person, but he’s started to open up a little bit, started to make some friendships,” Ryals said.
Callum has been playing football since age 6 and, like virtually all of his peers, he dreams of making it to the pro level. His confidence comes from a belief that God has a plan for him.
“You work hard every day (because there is always someone waiting to take your place),” Callum said. “Everybody has dreams. I’m a real religious person, (and God) has a plan for me, I hope. The NFL is not for everybody, but that’s my dream, to make it there.”