Hardin, Phillips set to kick it into gear

Florida kicker Brad Phillips, at right, celebrates his field goal with teammate Loucheiz Purifoy during the Orange and Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville on April 6.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 12:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 12:02 a.m.

Florida All-American placekicker Caleb Sturgis took his strong and accurate leg to the NFL, but he did leave something behind besides some impressive numbers and records.

Like a really big pair of shoes to fill.

“Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips both have the ability to do the job, but they've never done it in the situations they're going to be put into,” coach Will Muschamp said. “We may change up a little philosophically of what we think when we cross the 50. Supposedly, when you had Caleb, you knew you had three points in your hand, and that may change a little bit as we've talked in the offseason.”

The position battle to replace Sturgis, a fifth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins who was the first kicker taken, is one of several key ones in preseason camp.

“We're just really trying to get better every day,” said Hardin, a redshirt freshman from Atlanta who was the top-rated kicker in the nation by ESPN as a prep senior at Marist High School in 2011.

“The thing as a kicker is you have to be able to forget about the kicks before. You just have to take them one at a time and know that you've got a job out there that you can win. You can't get discouraged when you're doing badly or are inconsistent.

“We are coming in behind someone who proved himself and did really well here, but now it's our turn. We want to have careers here, too.”

Phillips, a senior walk-on who played for Buchholz High and walked on at UF as a true freshman in 2010, does have some experience, but it's mostly on kickoffs.

He has appeared in seven games and has averaged 62.8 yards in his career (27 kicks) with four touchbacks.

He has, however, only attempted four field goals, making two (long of 43), and is 4-for-4 on PATs.

“To be this close to being the starting kicker at the University of Florida is just so exciting,” he said. “Four years ago, I was just a local kid who liked the Gators.

“When I was freshman, I was just excited to put the jersey on. I never thought I would really get a chance, but the last few years I have gotten on the field for some field goals and kickoffs, and it was good to get that game experience.”

Hardin sat out last season, but learned a lot.

“I think the biggest thing about my redshirt year was just getting used to things,” he said. “Really it was an amazing year to learn behind someone who was great at what they do and I think was the best at what they did in the country. I just learned a lot from him (Sturgis), about the timing and how much quicker the game is, especially on the mental side. That helped me grow and not get down about missing a kick. I think that's the biggest difference from year one to now.”

The two may be in a battle, but they have a common goal.

“The standard for kickers has been set here at Florida, so either way, we know we have to fulfill that,” Phillips said. “It's been great pushing each other and working with each other's techniques, so that one of us can be the outright starter for this season.”

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