A year ago this would probably be a taboo subject. Coming off of a season where Asutin Hardin went 4 for 12 on field goal attempts and a season where the Gators finished 4-8, there is no way anyone was going to depend on Hardin.
A year later and things have changed. In 2014 Hardin went 7 for 10 on field goals more than doubling his percentage and was helpful in winning a couple of close games along the way.
Now, the new staff at Florida will be looking to lean on Hardin in his junior season as they deal with an offense that has a lot of question marks heading into the fall.
“I kind of had that in the back of my mind coming in that with a new offense and possibly new quarterback, there will be times I will be relied on, especially in this league,” Hardin said at Florida Media Days a few weeks ago.
“Last year I was able to be put into situations at Tennessee and South Carolina where I was able to have those high pressure kicks and deal with them successfully. I think that gave me a confidence boost last year and I was able to take on things my own. It really led into a great spring and summer.
“I am really excited this year and probably the most excited I have been for camp in a long time. I feel the healthiest I have been and strongest I’ve been. I feel like I’m right on track to have a great year.”
Jim McElwain and staff saw a lot of what they needed to see out of Hardin in the spring and it has translated now into fall camp. Outside of a single kick he missed in the first scrimmage, Hardin is looking more and more reliable every day.
“These coaches have rallied behind me and it’s helped a lot having the entire staff having confidence in you and say ‘you are the guy’ and ‘you will do it’. That has elevated my confidence and I haven’t looked back. I keep working and improving. I feel like I will be able to deliver.”
Over the last several years dating back into the Urban Meyer era, the coaching staffs have asked their kickers to kick to the goal line. A Gator team built for speed, coverage units have been one of the stronger units and the thought process has been to pin the other team down as deep as they can.
Jim McElwain wants something different. He would love for the ball to land in the stands behind the end zone and not worry about some crafty return man that can make a big return.
In the spring game, Hardin was having a hard time doing what McElwain wants. Having not done so in a few years because of what was asked, the kickoffs were shorter and McElwain was none to pleased following the scrimmage in April and let it be known publicly.
Hardin spent some time this summer getting his old leg back, the one in high school where he would put on a show pounding the ball deep and with ease.
“I am grinning because I was recruited here because of a strong leg and always had a strong leg,” Hardin said when asked about kicking it through the end zone. Being able to just let loose and slam the ball is something I am excited about.
“Over this summer I went out and trained with a local coach that has worked with Caleb Sturgis and working on my kickoffs and was really just slamming the ball out of the back of the end zone.”
It only took a few weeks for Hardin to get back to form and change the focus of his kick to meet the new criteria the staff is looking for.
“It takes focusing on the explosive power in your legs and more dynamic flexibility,” he said. “To hit the ball long on a kick off you are definitely getting it to hurdle a lot more. There are some small technical things I had to work on… where you are striking the ball and how far you strike through it. There are some simple adjustments that take a few weeks to get used to and I am excited to see what they are going to let me do.”
And recently McElwain has commented on Hardin and being able to punch it deep.
“Their confidence in me has really helped me in turn with my confidence and being given the free will to play to my strengths,” he said. “I am excited to just concentrate on that and hit some touchbacks.”
Now it is time to focus on the season and any goals he has all have to do with the team winding up on top.
“I think my biggest goal is to help the team anyway possible and the way I know how to,” Hardin said. “If it comes down to every game coming down to a field goal I will be there to help them and come through for them. I have prepared differently mentally and am going in the right way. My goals are to make every kick. It may not happen every time but move on and put the team in the best possible position to win.”
Here are some comments from Jim McElwain on special teams including Hardin.