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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Gators serving up more than success in McElwain’s kitchen

<p>UF football coach Jim McElwain walks down the sideline during Florida's 27-3 win against Georgia on Oct. 31, 2015, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.</p>

UF football coach Jim McElwain walks down the sideline during Florida's 27-3 win against Georgia on Oct. 31, 2015, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.

Jim McElwain doesn’t cut corners in life, and that holds true for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he’s making for any of the 105 players on Florida’s football team.

The first-year UF coach has made it a priority this season to bond with each member of the Gators, and according to McElwain, there’s no better way to get to know your players than with a PB&J.

"There’s some things that you really get to know about the guy when you’re spreading the peanut butter on a slab of bread and squeezing that jelly on there," McElwain said Wednesday.

"Believe it or not, there’s a lot of great conversation that goes on there. It’s a chance to spend some one-on-one time, some quality one-on-one time."

The quality time with coach has helped countless Gators become closer with McElwain and his staff, who have been on campus for less than a year.

Take freshman Antonio Callaway, who was revealed to be one of the first players that enjoyed McElwain’s scrumptious servings.

Originally committed to Miami, McElwain helped sway the Dade County native to Gainesville and he’s become a revelation on offense this season.

Through 10 games, Callaway is second on the team in receiving yards with 489 on 25 receptions while contributing three touchdowns.

With numbers like those, Callaway has already surpassed the figures that dominant freshman Percy Harvin had for the Gators in 2006.

Callaway’s production could possibly be increased if McElwain could just get him to eat his PB&J’s without cutting off the crust.

The willingness to make his team a snack is part of McElwain’s fortitude.

He isn’t satisfied with being just a football coach.

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At the end of the day, he’s at UF with the intention of bettering the lives of the student-athletes who put everything out on the field come Saturday.

"A thing you gotta understand, where a lot of these guys are from they don’t eat. I mean, I’m not kidding you," McElwain said.

"The opportunity that I have to be able to impart a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on their life, that’s a good deal."

The players have embraced McElwain’s warm and welcoming personality.

He's relatable and his confidence is infectious.

"I love Coach Mac’s swag," cornerback Jalen Tabor said.

"I guess you can say he's my type of guy. I love the way he goes and does what he does. I like the way he goes for it on fourth down and stuff like that, so I like his swag."

McElwain has been adamant that he wants an "open-door policy" for players to feel comfortable enough to seek him out, whether it’s for advice, a friendly chat or some gooey grape goodness.

"What did we do the first week here is [say] come up and see us. Find out where our offices are. Check in and make sure we’re doing OK," McElwain said.

"It isn’t like coming to the principal’s office. I was probably there too often. That isn’t how we work around here. It’s just fun to see them."

The feel-good, light-hearted atmosphere arguably wouldn’t matter without Florida’s Southeastern Conference East title and its 9-1 record heading into Saturday.

McElwain would likely be less inclined to joke about sandwiches if Florida were struggling to stay afloat in the SEC instead of being in the driver's seat.

But give McElwain and co. credit when it’s due.

They’ve created an atmosphere that allows for fun and humor, so long as the players are willing to work for it when McElwain’s kitchen is closed.

 Follow Graham Hall on Twitter @Graham311

UF football coach Jim McElwain walks down the sideline during Florida's 27-3 win against Georgia on Oct. 31, 2015, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.

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