Hardin, Phillips battling to start

Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips know what's at stake. The Gators are replacing the best kicker in school history after Caleb Sturgis graduated last season, and there's no clear idea of who will win the job. Sturgis leaves Gainesville third in the record books for points scored. Hardin and Phillips are trying to show enough consistency to earn this job on the practice field during spring practice.

The numbers that Caleb Sturgis posted are enough to put plenty of pressure on the two battling for the starting job. Sturgis scored 340 points in his career at Florida. He is at the top of the record book with eight field goals made of 50+ yards. He hit 70 career field goals, the most in school history and sixth-most in Southeastern Conference history. Sturgis' career 79.5 field goal percentage is second in school history for those with a minimum of 50 attempts.

Now Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips -- with a combined four field goals attempts between them -- are battling to take over for what Sturgis did in Gainesville.

"It's extremely overwhelming," Phillips said of potentially replacing Sturgis. "You've got to replace the No. 1 kicker in the nation, a four-year starter, and you've got to come in here like me and (Hardin) are both first-years wanting to play this whole year. It's a little bit overwhelming.

Calling it "a little bit" seems like an understatement. As the two try to make their move for the starting job on the practice field, there are noticeable differences. Florida head coach Will Muschamp said there are times late in practice, when the offense is running its two-minute drill offense, and Sturgis' void is felt the most. It's not because of anything Hardin or Phillips do, but it changes play calls from offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

Last year, Pease would try to get the Gators to the 37-yard line to set up for a field goal. Now, he is forced to call plays down the field to get closer to the end zone and set up an easier field goal for either of the kickers.

They're still working on adjustments, too. Hardin spent time last week working with Sturgis on some small technical issues, like keeping his head down through the kick. Those irons are starting to be ironed out while Hardin, who was ranked as the No. 5 kicker in the country when he graduated, continues to fight for the starting job.

"It's tough to change the strokes and different things you've been doing for years now, but it's things that need to be changed and help me out in the long run," Hardin said. "So he was just helping me out with a few things here and there. It's really close, but sometimes it gets frustrating. I'm having fun working with him and learning a lot and as much as I can."

Hardin took a redshirt during the 2012 season in his first year on campus. Now heading into his redshirt freshman season, he's thankful to be over the injury that cost him most of the 2012 season. Even though Hardin wouldn't have kicked much last year, he could've used the practice time. He suffered a high hamstring tear during the week before the Texas A&M game and was kept out of practice until the week before the Florida State game.

While he wasn't able to take physical reps, Hardin sat, watched film, and most importantly, watched every move Sturgis made on the practice field.

"It was tough going down with that injury," Hardin said. "I'd never been injured, and it came out of nowhere. It was the first time I had to deal with a lengthy injury. I really was able to bounce back, sit back and have a year to prepare and watch what Caleb has to go through and what I'm going to be going through.

"Coming back from it, I had to start working even harder. I feel like I'm 100-percent now and shouldn't have a problem with it."

Phillips might have a step up on the field because he has done it before. When Sturgis dealt with back and lower body injuries during the previous two years, Phillips could step in and take his place. He made 2-of-3 field goals in 2011, including a long of 43 yards against Georgia.

Phillips, a Buchholz High School graduate, has also contributed with 27 kickoffs for an average of 62.8 over the last three seasons with four touchbacks.

"I've been there," Phillips said. "I've been in real situation games. Like knowing what to think, like what goes through my head before each kick. Just trying to be as consistent as I can and getting better every practice."

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