The Florida Gators are replacing 2012 starters at running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, and safety – a tough task for any team to do. But what if that same team was also replacing their All-American kicker, as well?
The Gators enter the 2013 football season in that exact position. Of course, it is easy to look over the kicking position, and it often is. The position is not sexy, it does not hit hard, does not catch game winning 80-yard touchdowns, and is often a cause for major headaches, more than major praise. The kicker is usually the one off to the side, participates in drills away from the rest of the team, and carries a huge target on his back every time he steps up to kick.
For the past four years, the Gators have relied on Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis, a two-time Lou Groza finalist for the nation’s top placekicker, a CBSSports, ESPN and Sporting News All-American, and two-time All-SEC kicker, was 130-for-136 on extra point attempts and 70/88 on field goal attempts with a long of 56 yards.
Who is the lucky chap that is likely to replace the All-American? Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin from Atlanta, GA.
Hardin, the number one ranked kicker in 2012 by ESPN, was last seen struggling at the Under Armour All-American game, where he struggled to gain chemistry with kick holder and current Florida State QB Jameis Winston, and struggled on the astroturf field. However, his performance at the game was not necessarily indicative of his work.
The Georgia Sportswriter Associate Class 4A All-State Kicker was 13-for-20 on field goals his senior year, with a 59-yard long (all seven misses were from greater than 50 yards), with a perfect extra-point conversion rate. During his final two seasons at Marist High School, Hardin kicked touchbacks on 83 of his 112 kickoffs. Hardin also showed his skillset at the Kohl’s December Showcase Camp, where he went 9 of 10 in field goals, with the ball placed on the ground.
It is also worth noting that Hardin is very athletic. Hardin played safety, fullback, and corner at Marist, and bench presses 290-pounds and can squat over 400 pounds.
Reviewing kicking tape is tough. Kickers in high schools kick off tees and have much wider field goal post distances. However, what you can see in Hardin is that he has a booming leg. At 5-foot-10, 207 pounds, Hardin, is 23 pounds heavier than Caleb Sturgis and it is evident in his kicking ability. As a former soccer player, Hardin knows how to put power behind his kicks with great technique and follow-through.
Hardin’s technique does appear to be well developed and his accuracy is good when kicking short distances, but he will need to improve on his distance kicking as well as his accuracy. Hardin has a great leg and in short distances, great accuracy. On long field goals he often just “booms” the kick, pushing it wide to either side.
Although we have not seen him in over a year, it is easy to look at Hardin’s tape and see a lot of similarities to Caleb Sturgis. He will likely struggle in year one, as most kickers do, but expect Hardin to become a top-flight kicker for the Gators later in his career.