"It's definitely nice to go into the season knowing what's expected from you," Austin Maddox said. "You can't let it change your mentality. You've still got to come to the field every day working hard because there are people knocking on the door to take your spot all the time."
Maddox was a starting pitcher in high school at Eagle's View Academy, but he translated easily to the closer's role last season. He's one of the most emotional pitchers on the Florida team and attacks the opposing hitter with all three of his pitches.
The right-hander ended last season with a 0.67 ERA and five saves in 27 innings. He also recorded 21 strikeouts and walked just three hitters.
"I love being on the mound to get the final three outs," Maddox said. "It's just something inside of me. It's fun to me."
Just as Maddox was reaching his peak as the team's closer last season, he hurt his foot while going for a foul ball and running into the wall in a win over Manhattan in Florida's first game of Regionals.
He missed the remainder of Regionals and the entire Super Regionals while having his foot in a boot and being on crutches.
"It was tough sitting on the sidelines watching my team during the playoffs," Maddox said. "It was the first time I've ever been sidelined by an injury. It was something new for me."
Maddox returned to the mound in the College World Series and closed the game that would send Florida to the national championship series, tossing 1.2 shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out one hitter. Even though he got the job done, it was evident that his foot wasn't completely healthy. Maddox said it was "a little better than 50%," but he still couldn't run on it without pain.
It was his landing foot while pitching, but Maddox gutted it out and was effective. After the College World Series ended, trainers put the cast back on Maddox's foot and he was back on crutches for another three weeks. He went through rehab "all summer" and the foot was completely healthy when he returned to Gainesville for the fall.
Maddox has also been working hard on his swing this offseason. After winning SEC Freshman of the Year for hitting .333 with 17 home runs and 72 RBIs in 2010, Maddox took a step back in 2011.
He hit .280 with six home runs and 35 RBIs as a sophomore. Whether it was the change in bats for the college game or teams pitching him differently, Maddox is confident he will rebound during the 2012 season.
"I know I can hit," Maddox said. "The coaches have faith in me. I'm going to hit this year, so I'm not too worried about it."
He saw some time at third base last season, but that won't happen anymore. Maddox said he is working exclusively at first base this fall, a position he has seen plenty of time at in his first two years.
It will be a deep position for the Gators. Brian Johnson and Maddox have each seen plenty of time at first base in the past two years, but when the two got injured last season, Vickash Ramjit stepped up his play to create a three-way battle for playing time.
Ramjit hit .382 in with one home run and seven RBIs in 76 at-bats last season. He can also slide to third base in an emergency. With three players capable of playing and just one designated hitter spot available, the Gators will use the fall and spring to see who gets the most playing time.
"Me and Brian are both going to pitch, so we've got to have someone that can step in (at first base) when we're pitching," Maddox said.