After making one extra point and two field goals, Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis walked off the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after the 2013 Sugar Bowl. With him went an insurance policy, a fallback plan, and one of the legs that propped up a struggling Florida offense.
Sturgis is Florida’s third leading scorer all-time, and statistically the most productive field goal kicker to ever wear the orange and blue, with 70 made field goals to his credit. Inside the enormous shoes left by Sturgis step two unproven legs. One – redshirt freshman Austin Hardin – has never kicked in a collegiate game. The other – redshirt senior Brad Phillips – has done so only four times, making two of his attempted field goals.
The two are embroiled in one of the more compelling position battles of the offseason, the unique situation does have benefits though.
“I feel like it’s kinda pushed us both. If you see one kid kick, you want to kick better than he kicked before. Basically we’re trying to both be consistent, last summer we both weren’t very consistent. So we kinda push each other to be the starting kicker at Florida,” Phillips said.
Consistency was another thing that went out the door with Sturgis. In his final two seasons as a Gator, Sturgis put 88.4% of his field goals through the uprights, his legacy is something both kickers are acutely aware of.
“I’m coming from Caleb Sturgis, who bailed us out of a couple of games last year because of kicks. I don’t want there to be a significant dropoff to me picking up his spot,” Phillips said.
“It was great for me to learn behind someone who was great at what they did, someone who I think was the best at what they did in America last year,” Hardin said. “It helped me grow on the mental side a lot.”
There is no vitriol in this position battle. No blood feud or hard feelings, there is only two teammates attempting to succeed.
“It’s great, just pushing each other to get better, working with each others technique, so one of us can be the outright starter for next year’s team,” Phillips said.
“Brad is great to train with. He’s been here for five years, he kicks a really good ball. I’ll make a kick and I’ll turn around and Brad’s making it too. Each day we’re pushing each other to get better and better and that’s what’s so great about this competition,” Hardin said.
In the end, there will only be one that can kick field goals in the Swamp on Saturdays in the fall.
The winner may be Phillips, the walk-on redshirt senior from Gainesville, or it could be Hardin, the three-star prospect who was an Under Armour All-American.
No matter who wins the position competition during fall camp however, they’ll both be trying to forge their own legacy, one kick at a time.