Is Sturgis best UF kicker?


Florida's Caleb Sturgis (19) kicks a field goal to end the half against Tennessee on Sept. 15, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (The Associated Press)

Published: Friday, September 21, 2012 at 5:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 at 5:54 p.m.

He still has games to play, kicks to make and hours to kill on the practice field. But I don't know that Gator fans have ever felt more confident when it's time to kick a field goal as they do with Caleb Sturgis right now.

Last Saturday night in Knoxville was the perfect example.

Florida faced a third-and-7 at the Tennessee 39. The Gators were up two touchdowns and fans were heading for the exits, but the game was still not over. It was about to be.

I said aloud in the press box that if the Gators got six yards, we could all start writing our stories because that would clinch it. Six yards would mean a 49-yard field goal to go up by three scores. And Sturgis was not going to miss.

That's what I felt then and what I'm sure a lot of you felt.

Sure enough, six yards later, Sturgis jogged onto the field and didn't just make the kick, he booted it down the middle into the stands.

Any faint hopes for a Big Orange comeback were gone.

The point of this story is to examine something I've been thinking for a couple of weeks now. Is Caleb Sturgis the best kicker in the history of Florida football?

I'm a little biased because he's a St. Augustine guy and I was good friends with his father, Smiley. So I went to three guys who know about kicking.

Bobby Raymond still holds the record for field-goal percentage at UF at 87.8 percent. In 1983 and '84, he made 43 of 49 field goals, including 17 in a row during the '84 season.

“I'll never admit anybody is a better kicker than me,” he said.

Jeff Chandler set the UF record for percentage for a kicker with 50 or more attempts at 84 percent.

“I think it's a three-way tie for the best,” he said. “But you better check with Judd. He won the Groza and that's the gold standard for kicking.”

Judd Davis won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's best kicker in 1993.

“Caleb's definitely in the top two,” Davis said.

Kickers are a confident bunch. They have to be. You stand around for most of the game looking at cheerleaders and then you're asked to get in there and nail a 45-yard field goal that means so much to so many people.

Florida has had some great ones, including Berj Yepremian and David Posey. But if you're going to talk about the best ever, I think those four are the argument — Davis, Chandler, Raymond and Sturgis.

Raymond was so consistent. Twice he made six field goals in a game. He had the advantage of wider goal posts and kicking off a block. But he was also money on one of the best teams to ever wear the orange and blue in 1984.

“I'm just glad Caleb is back,” said Raymond, referring to a back injury that sidelined Sturgis for most of the 2010 season. “It's night and day having him. His kickoffs are a big benefit. I think he's a phenomenal kicker.

“I think we should meet on the golf course to decide it. But the younger guys have to give me a stroke.”

Davis won the Groza in part because of an amazing day in Jacksonville. In a torrential downpour, Davis kicked four field goals that were crucial in Florida's win over Georgia and was a first-team All-American.

“Caleb is kicking with a lot of confidence now,” said Davis, who has worked with Sturgis in the past. “The only guy who I've seen in person who had a more powerful leg was Sebastian Janikowski.

“When I worked with him, he was having some trouble with hooking the ball and we worked on having a little fade and that's what he's doing now. I hope he wins the Groza this year. I told him he's already got one vote — mine.”

Chandler said he noticed from the first time he watched him how the ball explodes off Sturgis' foot when he kicks.

“You can see it when the ball takes off like it was shot out of a cannon,” Chandler said. “He's very good. Caleb is kind of an old-school kicker. It used to be short guys with powerful builds and then it changed where guys were bigger and heavier like Janikowski. Caleb is like the way it used to be.”

One thing that Sturgis has over the other three kickers (and over every kicker in UF history) is that he has seven field goals of more than 50 yards, a Gator record.

“We never got stopped at the 35,” said Chandler, who played during the Steve Spurrier Era.

“Neither did we,” said Davis.

“Same here,” said Raymond. “Plus we had Chris Perkins come in for the few times we tried one that long. I could make it from 52, but I never got the chance.”

The best ever? Florida fans can debate it at their tailgates today. But more than anything, they're just happy with the kicker they have right now.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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