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VOL. 43 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 8, 2019

Vols receiver Callaway ‘always the kid everybody loved’

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Marquez Callaway thought it was a bit strange that he was allowed to return home only a week before his first career game in a Tennessee uniform.

His family told Callaway that his grandmother was being honored at a local church in Warner Robins, Georgia, and he needed to be there.

Former Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni gave Callaway his blessing to leave six days before the 2016 season started.

Once Callaway arrived at the church, he realized he’d been tricked. There was nothing planned for his grandmother. It was all for Callaway.

He was being honored as the Volunteer of the Year by the Special Olympics for the entire state of Georgia.

Callaway’s aunt participates in the Special Olympics, and he started watching her compete when he was young. He loved seeing the joy on the faces of the athletes and decided to begin volunteering on his own in middle school.

“I was really, really surprised when I got that award,” Callaway acknowledges. “It really meant a lot to me to get recognized. I never did it for that, but I was pretty proud of it.”

Callaway’s receiving skills and special teams play are on display nationally every Saturday in the fall for the Vols. But it’s the senior’s work away from the spotlight that has endeared him to many.

He’s always willing to help others and provide support to anyone on campus.

Last month, a man fell out of his wheelchair outside of the Thornton Center. Callaway had just crossed the street, but rushed back to help after seeing him fall on the concrete.

“He surprises us all the time with some of the things he does,” says Callaway’s mother, Maureen. “He is very sweet and has always been very polite. What you see is what you get with Marquez. He is true to himself and doesn’t put on airs.

“He is just Marquez.”

Jamaal Garman has known Callaway since he walked into Garman’s social studies classroom at Warner Robins Middle School in the sixth grade. Garman coached Callaway in seventh grade football and was his high school basketball coach for four years.

“The first thing about him is that smile. Man, that smile draws you in and you are intrigued by what is behind the smile,” Garman says. “The guy is so caring, and he really hates to tell people no. He wants to help everyone if he can.”

Callaway starred in basketball, football, soccer and track in middle school. By high school, he narrowed it to just football and basketball.

Callaway thought about quitting football and just focusing on basketball until one of his high school coaches talked him out of it. He was recruited by midmajor programs to play basketball in college, but realized he had more upside in football.

“I had a teammate who was being highly recruited, and scouts were coming in every day looking at him. I wanted to be noticed like that and I wanted people who wanted me to come to their school,” Callaway recalls. “That is what made me work even harder to get that opportunity in football and it ended up happening.”

Callaway loved the environment at Tennessee, and the personal touches the Vols provided on his official visit.

“He loves my meatloaf, and they had all this meatloaf they had ordered from one of the restaurants there when he came. He loved that,” his mother says. “I thought it was funny they found out how much he loved meatloaf.”

Tray Wilkerson met Callaway in the sixth grade when Wilkerson moved to Warner Robins. Callaway was picked to show Wilkerson around the new middle school on his first day.

“We’ve been best friends ever since,” Wilkerson points out. “Marquez is very goofy and is really fun to be around. He gives off an amazing energy and anybody would want to talk to him.”

Wilkerson realized how athletically gifted Callaway was after visiting his home for the first time.

“I went into his room and I had never seen that many trophies for somebody our age,” Wilkerson adds. “We were like 10 or 11, and his room was filled with them. He was always a top player in every sport.”

Once Callaway arrived at Tennessee, he discovered how much he loved animals. He had a dog growing up, but his teammates introduced him to new species.

“The Florida boys, they had snakes, they had geckos, they had bearded dragons. They had anything you could imagine,” Callaway says. “They were all roommates, so it was like full reptiles in that room. I’d always go over there and realized these things are pretty cool. I actually got to liking them.”

Callaway has a snake named Lemon (another other snake recently died), and a year-old black German Shepherd named Cali.

But his adoration for animals only goes so far.

The man who muscles away jump balls from defensive backs and blasts through holes on kick returns can be stopped dead in his tracks by … spiders.

During a recent visit home, Callaway called his mom from the other side of the house to come rescue him.

“I walked in the door and there was a little spider on top of the door and he said, ‘Kill that spider for me. I can’t go out of the room.’” his mother says. “I was like, ‘really?’ He is hilarious with that. He says he has arachnophobia. It’s crazy.”

Some football players may not admit such a fear, but Callaway doesn’t adhere to stereotypes.

“He is very different. He doesn’t really care about outsider opinions,” Wilkerson says. “If he likes things, he is going to get it or do it. It won’t be based on what anyone else thinks.”

The last four years haven’t been easy for Tennessee’s seniors. They’ve seen coaching changes, horrible losses and derailed ambitions.

But Callaway tries not to dwell on the past because he sees brighter days ahead for a program that has won three out of the last four games to make bowl eligibility a realistic possibility.

“The seniors take pride in making sure we keep things rolling since it’s our last go around,” explains Callaway, who has 18 catches for 384 yards and four touchdowns along with a punt return for a touchdown this season. “I am leaving everything out on the field to try to make plays when I can, whether it’s catching the ball, blocking or returning. I am really just trying to put myself in the position to make everybody else better.”

No matter how bleak things seemed, Callaway’s family knew he wouldn’t try to transfer or abandon the Vols.

“Growing up, we always told him there was no quitting if you join a team,” his mother recalls. “You need to stay and have some integrity to stick it out. If you quit, you disappoint the coaches and other players and don’t learn anything.”

Callaway is set to graduate in December with a degree in communications studies and will begin pursuing an NFL career once UT’s season ends.

No matter where he ends up, Callaway plans to volunteer his time and give back as much as possible to the community. It’s the way he was raised and the way he feels most comfortable.

“Marquez was always the kid everybody loved and he loved everyone right back,” Garman says. “The great thing about him is he never wants anything in return. That is just his character, and that is going to carry him far in life. It already has.”

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