Big shoes to fill at Florida with Sturgis gone
Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 3:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 7:13 p.m.
Caleb Sturgis entered his first NFL training camp on Sunday as the Miami Dolphins' highest drafted kicker since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, but even he realized a roster spot is rarely safe for a struggling kicker.
Sturgis is splitting repetitions this week with veteran place kicker Dan Carpenter and attempting to unseat the former Pro Bowler as the Dolphins' starter. The loser of the competition will likely be cut by the end of camp, making each practice attempt for Sturgis, UF's all-time leader in career field goals, a must to convert.
While the individual stakes in Gainesville won't be as high when UF's fall practice begins Aug. 1, Sturgis had a simple message to relay to his former Florida backups after missing his second-to-last kick from 47 yards out on Monday.
“All you can focus on is yourself,” Sturgis said. “If you make every kick, what else can you do?”
In his final season at Florida, Sturgis nearly met that standard as he connected on 24-of-28 field goals, including all three of his attempts longer than 50 yards.
As the only Gator kicker to convert a field goal or extra point last year, Sturgis knew well before his fifth-round selection in April's NFL draft that his departure would ensure another position battle in Gainesville.
Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin, senior Brad Phillips and redshirt junior Frank Velez were all backups under Sturgis during the Gators' 11-2 campaign last season. Though Phillips has previously seen playing time, Hardin, who was the nation's top-rated kicker in the Class of 2012 by ESPN, is the Gators' lone kicker on scholarship.
“Anytime you leave, you want to make sure the next guy is ready,” Sturgis said. “I really tried to hold them accountable for everything they did. … I tried to make sure that whenever they got in and got their reps that they were taking them seriously and trying to help themselves for next year.”
In his first spring without Sturgis handling the kicking game, however, UF coach Will Muschamp called the position group's performance “inconsistent” and kept the competition open before fall camp.
Florida's leading scorer last season, Sturgis was a valuable source of points in high-pressure situations. In the Gators' eight come-from-behind wins, Sturgis converted at least two field goals in a single game six times.
“Special teams, you lose Caleb Sturgis, I've had some sleepless nights on that one,” Muschamp said at SEC Media Days last week. “Brad Phillips and Austin Hardin, in my opinion are talented enough. It's a matter of them going out in game-time situations and getting it done.”
With uncertainty still surrounding the position, a fourth kicker will be added to the competition when fall camp starts in eight days.
Danny Krysalka accepted a preferred walk-on opportunity in February out of Ocala Forest High after catching the eye of the Florida coaching staff as both a kicker and punter.
In his senior season, Krysalka trained with former UF kicker Judd Davis, a Lou Groza Award winner in 1993. Davis, who was also a walk-on at Florida, encouraged Krysalka to take a chance with the Gators.
“If you got some superstar that's a freshman, redshirt freshman or redshirt sophomore kicker and you want to go to that school, you know it's wrapped up,” Davis said.
“But Danny saw this opening where Caleb was leaving. He really, as a walk-on, has got it on a silver platter. Now whether Austin will struggle or not, I don't know. Austin is a great kicker, but it's definitely a unique situation.”
Even if a starter emerges out of practice, former Gator place-kicker Jeff Chandler said the kicking competition could drag into the regular season if consistency remains an issue.
Chandler, who saw his school record of 67 career field goals broken by Sturgis last year, became Florida's full-time starter as a sophomore in 1998 after senior Collins Cooper missed a 32-yard attempt in a 20-17 overtime loss to Tennessee.
“Basically, I was just thrust into the starting position, because I was the next guy in line,” Chandler said. “There's no gray area with field-goal kicking. It's black and white. You make it, or you miss it. So in that sense, it's refreshing. You know where you stand.”