LAKE BUENA VISTA – Many kickers get that rap: they aren’t part of the team, and they live in a shell away from the world of ‘real football.’ For Florida commitment Austin Hardin (Atlanta/Marist), he’s out to shatter the paradigm people have regarding special teams players, if you will.
“I don’t like being a typical kicker. I don’t want to be the skinny, 160-pound kicker who’s not part of the team,” Hardin said. “I want to be in with all the guys, joking around and all that. I want to get away from the whole kicker mold, I guess. ”
Hardin has seen plenty of action this week at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. Along with Duke commitment Ross Martin, the two specialists in this game have to handle all three phases of the kicking game: placement kicks (field goals and extra points), kickoffs and punts. Although Hardin has noted that he isn’t the strongest punter, he is enjoying the opportunity to get on the field and show what he can do heading into Thursday night’s nationally-televised Under Armour All-America Game (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
“It’s something that not a lot of people get to experience,” he said. “It’s just fun.”
Still, the week hasn’t been without adversity for Hardin. He’s battling a cold and has also struggled with his field goal attempts in practice this week – as a result of a holder who has never done the job until this week.
“We have a guy [Florida State QB commitment Jameis Winston] who has never held before,” Hardin said. “He struggled a little bit. The [snaps] he would get, we hit them right down the middle. The [holds] he would bobble, they haven’t went well.”
On Wednesday during practice, Hardin and Winston finally did start to find a rhythm. Heading into Thursday night, they finally seem to be on the same page of the kicker-holder relationship.
“Just been a matter of getting comfortable with the guys, getting the timing down,” he said. Hardin was also quick to throw out his appreciation of Winston, who volunteered for the job, despite never having been a holder before.
As the kicker for Team Blur this week, Hardin has had the chance to spend plenty of time with his future teammates in Gainesville, as six Florida commitments are all together on the same squad for the UA Game. Hardin said it’s been a positive experience as the group continues to get to know each other a little better.
“We’re so happy that we’re on the same team because we’re so close and everything,” Hardin said. It’s a little preview of what it’s going to be like next year. We’re having a fun time with it.”
Known for his gregarious personality, Hardin has been doing plenty of recruiting over the past few months. The trend has continued at the Under Armour Game, as Hardin has been doing his best to win over a couple of recruits who are on the fence about UF.
“I want to be right in the middle, recruiting guys, and being a part of it,” he said. “I just like to get to know guys. I’m outgoing, talkative and once I’m apart of something I like to go hard – make Florida as good as possible by recruiting all of these guys. It’s easy for me to go out and talk to guys, let them know what we’re all about and have fun with it too.”
As for the top targets this week, there’s been a couple in particular, according to Hardin.
“We’ve actually talked about it some. We’re like, ‘we need to get this guy and that guy,’” he said of the plan the UF commitments have formulated in Central Florida this week. “We’ve been talking to Avery and Jordan and a couple of the guys. They’ve been down on visits and know us and have a good time with us. But there’s no need to be up in their face to go to Florida. It’s about, ‘look at us, look how close we are – you can be part of it too.’”
Looking ahead to the future, Hardin has a positive outlook on the direction of the Florida class heading into National Signing Day, and feels the Class of 2012 will bring quite a bit of magic to Gainesville once they all get settled into college life this coming summer.
“I follow recruiting too. If we close out well, I think we can close out with one of the top classes, if not the top class,” Hardin said. “The greatest thing about it is, it’s not a class that’s going to come in and think we’re entitled to anything.”
“We’re a class that’s ready to work. That’s the sentiment amongst the class. We’re ready to get down there and make everything right.”
After a couple of tough seasons for the UF fanbase, that certainly has to be a good sign of the direction for the Gators looking ahead to the Fall of 2012.