Gators must fill void at kicker with Sturgis gone

By Adam Silverstein
July 10, 2013

A combination of graduations and early departures have forced the Florida Gators to replace 13 starters heading into the 2013 season.

While most of the attention seems to be focused on Florida finding a new starting running back, three linebackers and a pair of capable safeties, the Gators must also determine a suitable replacement for last year’s leading scorer.

Kicker Caleb Sturgis, third in Florida’s record books for most points in a career (340) and second for most points in a single season (110, 2009), registered the seventh-highest scoring season in Gators history in 2012 when he led the team in scoring by accounting for one-third of UF’s points (106 of 344).

Sturgis was impressive as he connected on 24-of-28 field goals (three of his misses due to blocked kicks) and 34-of-35 extra points last year. He was even deadlier from long range as he was able to put points on the board when Florida otherwise would have been forced to punt and turn the ball over.

He went 5-for-6 from 40+ yards, 3-for-3 from beyond 50 yards and let teams know his leg needed to be respected when he started off the season with a 51-yard make in each of the first two games – both victories.

The Gators were aware Sturgis’s eligibility would be used up at the conclusion of the season, but Florida may not have been prepared for how difficult a task it would be to replace someone so accurate, accountable and trustworthy.

“You lose the best kicker I’ve ever been around,” head coach Will Muschamp said on March 27. “There’s no question it’s a huge concern and we need to get better.”

Senior Brad Phillips, a walk-on in 2010, is 2-for-4 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points during his three-year career. Though he has kicked off 27 times (15 in 2011) and averaged 62.8 per kick, he has only been the Gators’ primary kicker twice – both times as an injury replacement for Sturgis.

Yet while he has a bit of experience under his belt, Phillips did not stand out from redshirt freshman Austin Hardin – considered the No. 1 kicking prospect in the nation by ESPN coming out of high school in 2012 – during spring practices.

And that’s not a good thing because Phillips and Hardin were equally unimpressive, according to Muschamp, who called the duo inconsistent for most of the 15 practices.

“Brad and Austin both have the ability to kick at a high level for us,” he said after the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut. “We just got to do it more consistently.”

“[Kicking] changes the game, it does. People don’t realize that,” he said on March 27. “Brad has kicked in games before, big games before, and Austin is very talented. I think they’re going to be fine. We just got to get more consistent.

“A little bit of it is you leave a guy that you had such confidence and the team had such confidence in and now you’re a little bit of the unknown. The unknown for a coach is never good and that’s kind of where we are right now.”

One Comment

  1. Swell Miguel says:

    Totally agree. The Gators would have been in a much different situation last year without Sturgis. Without a capable kicker this year, we’d better hope the offense put a few more points on the board.

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