Oh, Caleb, where art thou?
After enjoying four years of one of the most accurate kickers in school history, Gator fans were pining for their graduated place kicker Caleb Sturgis as his replacements struggled and missed one field goal after another.
Austin Hardin, Sturgis’ presumed replacement, spent his first year on campus earning a redshirt while learning from Sturgis in practice and watching him on the sidelines. Hardin connected on just 4-8 field attempts to start the season it began a kicking merry-go-round as the Gators used Hardin, senior Brad Phillips and junior Frankie Velez. The three platooned the rest of the season but none were effective enough to take the job outright.
So as the Gators creep towards a new season, there are still the same questions at kicker that were posed prior to last season.
And so Florida’s kicking carousel spins on.
Holding Steady: Austin Hardin, Frankie Velez
2013 Stats: 4-12 (33.3%), 15-15 PAT
A former Under Armour All-American Hardin was recruited to be the replacement for Sturgis. Hardin spent his first season learning from Sturgis while redshirting to retain a year of eligibility for what looked to be Florida’s answer at kicker.
Hardin missed a few kicks early on and was pulled as the starting kicker. Hardin wasn’t replaced completely, instead remaining as the field goal kicker for attempts over 42-yards. That’s not the easiest role for a kicker to fill and Hardin missed his last five kicks of the season.
The kicking competition will remain open this offseason and Hardin has as good of a chance to win it this season as he did last season.
Strengths: Hardin has a big leg. This is evident in the role of long-range kicker that was given to him by the coaching staff. Hardin’s biggest asset is his big leg which begs the question as to why he wasn’t allowed to send kickoffs into the end zone more regularly.
Weaknesses: Accuracy. Hardin connected on just over 33% of his kicks this season. That’s an unacceptable conversion rate and something he has to get corrected if he wants to have a future at Florida. Missing some kicks early, being pulled as the starter and then demoted to just a long-range kicker likely messed with Hardin’s confidence but he needs to forget the past and move forward.
2013 Stats: 6-8 (75%), 6-6 PAT
A walk-on, Velez made his first ever road trip this season to LSU. He hadn’t kicked in a live game since he was a senior in high school kicking in the state championship game. Velez connected on both of his field goal attempts that day and finished the year 6-8 on field goal tries.
Velez was given the short yardage kicking job and he played well in his first action as a Gator.
Strengths: Velez was very accurate when thrust into unexpected action this past season. For him to hit his first two career kicks in the less than friendly confines of Tiger Stadium shows a steel resolve.
Weaknesses: What Velez has in the way of accuracy he lacks in leg power. He wasn’t trusted to kick much longer than 40-yards and was never asked to kickoff.
Moving Up: Brooks Abbott
2013 Season Stats: N/A
Brooks Abbott was a 2-star kicker out of Jacksonville Bolles who attended Virginia Tech. Abbott transferred out of Virginia Tech after just a season and spent 2013 at Florida State College in Jacksonville.
Abbott spent his freshman season as a kickoff specialist in Blacksburg averaging 61.5 yards-per-kick with nine touchbacks.
Abbott will not be able to enroll this spring but should be on campus this June after completing his Associate of Arts degree. Abbott told Gator Country that he was told he will be a preferred walk-on initially but that Will Muschamp told him that a scholarship will be made available if he wins the starting job this offseason.
Strengths: Abbott has a big leg who was the kickoff specialist during his time at Virginia Tech.
Weaknesses: Abbott hasn’t kicked in more than a year and hasn’t kicked an actual field goal since high school. He’ll undoubtedly be rusty when he gets to Gainesville but he’ll have to knock that rust off quickly if he wants to earn a scholarship.
Moving Down: N/A
There are three players for one position so somebody will be moving down sooner or later. Unless all three kickers struggle like we saw in 2013 and Florida goes with a rotation at the position.
It’s just too early to tell.
Buried on the depth chart: N/A
Until we see how these three kickers perform in the spring, summer and possibly even in the beginning of the season, the job is wide open and nobody is buried on the depth chart.