The television show “The Brady Bunch” aired from 1969-1974, a good 20 years before Austin Hardin was born. Despite being two decades younger than the television series, Hardin can identify with one of the main characters.
Jan Brady lived in the shadow of her older sister Marsha and when Marsha was getting too much attention; Jan comically said “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” in what became one of the most popular quotes from the show.
For Hardin, it isn’t a good looking older sister hogging the attention, but rather a former Gator kicker who has moved on to the NFL that he will — fairly or unfairly — be compared to throughout his career. No matter what Hardin does this season, his numbers will be compared to what Caleb Sturgis did at Florida. Hardin knows the expectations that come along with trying to replace a Gator Great.
“Obviously, I think during spring I put that pressure on myself and it didn’t end up too well,” Hardin said of trying to replace Sturgis. “I think the big thing was just to realize that I’m here for now, this is my time to kick and do my job. I think I can do a great job at it too. I’m feeling very confident in what I can do. I feel like I can have a great freshman season and like I said, I have four years doing it so I think people will just have to get used to having me up there.”
Hardin’s journey as Florida’s placekicker began on Saturday in The Swamp. A redshirt freshman, this wasn’t the first time that Hardin has played in front of more than 80,000 screaming Gator fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium but this game was different than all the others he was in last season.
“Last year I was able to kind of run out and kind of be a cheerleader and cheer everyone on,” Hardin said about his redshirt season. “The thing about today, I remember just sitting in the tunnel, closing my eyes and just keeping my cool, being calm and relaxed and visualizing. I completely believe that kicking is such a mental position and it’s really important to stay collected and not get over hyped and believe in what you’re doing.”
That visualization worked for Hardin who connected on 1-of-2 field goals and all three extra point attempts. Hardin’s only hiccup on what was otherwise an impressive debut was a 39-yard miss in the fourth quarter
Florida was driving the football and had worked themselves into the redzone before two holding calls stalled the Florida drive and brought Hardin out to attempt a 39-yard kick. Hardin lined up on the right hash, struck the ball well but his attempt sailed just outside of the left upright. The miss came with the game already well in hand and didn’t hurt the Gators. One could even argue that it was better for Hardin to get that first miss out of the way in a game that was already all but decided. The most important thing is that Hardin didn’t let the miss effect him mentally.
“I thought I hit the 40-yarder really well with good distance and height. I think just getting that out of the way, knowing that it’s going to happen, you know,” Hardin said. “Like I said, I think it’s my first year and I think just learning from it, the big thing was that I really didn’t feel like it was hanging over my head, I was ready to move on and if they would have called a field goal again I would have been ready to go out and hit another one.”
He’s not Caleb Sturgis, and while he respects what Sturgis was able to do while at Florida, Austin Hardin is hoping to create a name for himself and to come out of the large shadow that Sturgis casts over the position. Hardin is comfortable in his role and he hopes that Gator fans will grow to trust him like they trusted old No. 19.
“I feel really comfortable in my role and I feel like I can improve each and every game,” Hardin said. “So I’m just taking it game-by-game right now and kick-by-kick.”