Notebook: Hardin named UF starting kicker


Florida’s Austin Hardin, right, won the starting kicking job over senior walk-on Brad Phillips.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer/FILE
Published: Monday, August 26, 2013 at 6:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 26, 2013 at 6:26 p.m.

Florida's final preseason position battle has been settled. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin has won the place-kicking job, edging out senior walk-on, and former Buchholz High standout, Brad Phillips.

“Right now, Austin would be (the kicker),” UF coach Will Muschamp said Monday. “Brad was slowed by a groin (injury in camp). Brad kicked very well when he kicked, he just didn't have as many attempts or at-bats as Austin did.

“Austin sort of distanced himself as a kickoff guy and for the place-kicking duties. But Brad is a guy who has been in the game before and done it when the lights were on, so that's something we're going to work through during the season.”

At another position that was hotly contested in camp, Clay Burton successful fended off the competition to remain in the top spot at tight end heading into Saturday's opener.

“Clay is just a very dependable guy who can play multiple spots as far as playing on the line and also playing what we call the 'move' position and being able to do some different things,” Muschamp said. “He gives you a lot of variety as far as being in the game with how they're going to account for him, as an on-the-line tight end and an off-the-line 'move' guy.”

Freshmen on depth chart

There are six true freshmen on the depth chart that Muschamp released Monday for the Toledo game — wide receivers Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson, linebacker Daniel McMillian, safety Keanu Neal and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

All five are in back-up positions, including Robinson, who was one of the offensive stars of preseason camp. Robinson is listed as the No. 2 receiver behind junior Quinton Dunbar at the X position.

Muschamp was asked if the plan was to ease Robinson into a starting role.

“No,” he said. “The bottom line is if they are the best at their position, they will start. If they are good at their position, they will play. We don't really sit back and try to ease anybody into anything.

“We are mindful for the situations we put them in knowing the anxieties some players more than others will face in their first ball game. That's something we've talked about. Demarcus is a young man that I think will handle it very well.”

The two freshmen conspicuous by their absence on the depth chart are tailback Kelvin Taylor and middle linebacker Alex Anzalone, both five-star prospects coming out of high school.

High expectations for Fowler

Many, including Muschamp, are expecting special things from true sophomore Dante Fowler Jr. in his first season as the starter at the Buck defensive end/linebacker position.

“I've got huge expectations,” Muschamp said. “He's a guy that's played extremely well. No. 1, he had a great offseason. He approached it the right way, worked hard. He worked hard on the things we asked him to work on. He's a very coachable young man.

“He's a guy that's had a really good fall camp. He's really worked hard. He approached it the way you're supposed to. He goes after it every single day, and he plays hard for the University of Florida.”

Fowler said he's much stronger and in better condition than he was last season. He said he's weighing about 265 now as opposed to 278-280 a year ago.

“I feel really good,” Fowler said. “(Fatigue) was (a problem last season). I kind of came in like two weeks before camp, so I really didn't get to condition like that. I really started getting my wind and stuff like that toward like the South Carolina game or something like that.

“That's when I really started to feel it. Being able to do the ground program, having spring and the offseason, stuff like that really helped me a lot being more dedicated."

Fast starters in 2013?

The emphasis heading into last season was on winning the fourth quarter, something the Gators went on to do.

So, is the goal this season to become a first-quarter team after all those slow starts from a year ago.

“We'd like to play well in all four if we can,” Muschamp said. “We've started talking to our guys more about starting fast, especially on the offensive side of the ball, creating some positive opportunities for our football team. But that goes in all three phases.

“In the kicking game, being able to pin somebody back or get a big return. Defensively, create a turnover early in the game and create some momentum for our fans, our football team.

“It's a team thing, and certainly we've emphasized it maybe more so than we have in the past. I know it's a huge point of emphasis offensively.”

Humphries on PB&J diet

Quarterback Jeff Driskel said not only is the offensive line deeper than a year ago, it's also bigger and stronger.

“Especially (left tackle) D.J. (Humphries),” Driskel said. “He's gained a lot of weight since the offseason. The whole summer I saw him with peanut butter and jelly (sandwiches) in his hands. That was good.

“But he knows what he's doing. He's athletic. He's a big-time player. It's hard to start as a true sophomore at left tackle at an SEC school. That kind of speaks for itself.”

Rhett honorary Mr. Two Bits

Muschamp announced Monday at every home game UF is going to honor George (Mr. Two Bits) Edmondson with a celebrity filling his former role as crowd cheerleader. The first celebrity is former tailback Errict Rhett, who will be doing the Mr. Two Bits thing Saturday.

“He's certainly a passionate guy with a lot of energy,” Muschamp said of Rhett. “You talk to him on the phone, he's almost going to come through the phone on you.

“He's excited about it. It won't always be a football player, but it will obviously be a Gator celebrity that means a lot to the University of Florida.”

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