Austin Hardin has Big Shoes to Fill

There’s an old saying, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Well, what happens when talent meets hard work? That’s where special players are born.

As athletes, it is the most talented ones that often get special treatment. The all-stars in little league get first dibs on snacks after the games. The all-stars in high school get recognition from girls, get all the trophies and have ESPN come film their announcements to college. It’s easy to get wrapped up in yourself and forget that you cannot get by on talent alone.

Austin Hardin gets that.

A former Under Armour All-American, Hardin chose Florida over schools like Auburn and Tennessee. The decision was made more difficult because of the player that Florida already had on campus, Caleb Sturgis.

Despite missing time with various injuries, Sturgis just wrapped up one of the most productive careers a placekicker has ever had at the University of Florida. Sturgis finished with a school record 70 made field goals and 340 career points, good enough to place him third on the school’s all-time list.

At times kickers can be overlooked. They’re not often the most physically impressive players on the team. They don’t battle in the trenches with the linemen, make highlight reel touchdown catches like receivers or deliver bone-crunching hits that wind up on Sports Center’s top-10. But great kicker, like Sturgis, can affect the game in ways most people don’t notice.

Sturgis was so good during his stay at Florida that he changed the way the offensive coordinator would call plays. Why take an unnecessary risk when all you have to do is give your kicker a chance from 50-yards out. How many times did you see #19 trot on the field for a 50-yarder and already add the three points in you’re head? Most college kickers don’t instill that kind of confidence in their coaches, but game-changing kickers do and that’s what Hardin is trying to replace. The hole that Sturgis leaves on the roster is a big one and it’s something that hasn’t escaped Will Muschamp.

“Obviously losing Caleb Sturgis is a huge blow to our football team. We need one of those guys [Hardin, Brad Phillips] to step up and certainly contribute for us.”

Enrolling at Florida with Sturgis still on the roster was step one in humility. It meant that Hardin would spend his first year in college redshirting. A reality check like that could ruin a player’s spirit and make them begin to doubt themself.

Not Hardin.

He now enters his second season at Florida in a position battle with Brad Phillips. At practice on Friday, Hardin showed off the leg strength that helped him boot a 59-yard game winning field goal in high school. The ball gets high off the ground quickly and explodes off of his foot. On one of his field goal tries from about 30-yards out,  Hardin landed a ball through the uprights and into a scaffold some 20-30 feet in the air behind the goal posts.

There is no denying that the talent is there.

What separated Hardin from the pack was his work ethic. After the final whistle signaled the end of practice and most of his teammates had collected their Gatorade and were making their way to the locker room, one player headed in the opposite direction.

Hardin stopped Trey Burton, who has been working as the holder on field goals, and long snapper, Drew Ferris to get some extra work in after practice. They stayed for an extra 10-15 minutes, working on technique.

It’s that kind of dedication that separates good players from great players. The willingness to put in the extra work after everyone else has gone home is what turns great players into All-Americans.

Hardin hasn’t attempted a field goal, extra point or even a kickoff in his young career. He’s following in the shoes of one of the best kickers in school history and he knows it. That is why he puts in the extra work.

In a world where games are won and lost on the feet of kickers every Saturday, Gator fans can rest assured that their kicker will be ready.

Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC