Replacing Sturgis

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -– Florida has to replace seven starters on defense and five on offense, but that isn't causing coach Will Muschamp the most distress.

It's trying to find someone to step in for K Caleb Sturgis, who left school as the greatest kicker in school history.

"I don't even like to think about it, to be honest with you," Muschamp said.

Austin Hardin, however, isn't having that problem.

He's the most likely replacement for Sturgis. The redshirt freshman from Atlanta/Marist was ESPN's top-ranked kicker in 2012 and was expected to handle kickoffs but a hamstring injury kept him from being able to fulfill that role. Hardin went 13-for-13 on field goal attempts of less than 50 yards and never missed a PAT in his senior season at Marist.

The only area in which he struggled was beyond 50 yards. He went 0-for-7 from that distance.

That was an area in which Sturgis excelled. He kicked a school record eight field goals of 50 or more yards in his career.

Sturgis' range was a huge help to offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who said he was able to be more aggressive when the Gators reached the 35-yard line.

"When you get into that certain range, that 35-yard line area, and the red zone, you know how aggressive you can be with the ball, what you can do play-calling," Pease said. "It opens up the field more because you know you maybe don't have to go any further. Sometimes, you've still got to plan to try to go for that touchdown shot, or are you playing to get into the 25-, 20-yard range for a kicker who has to kick it from there.

"With someone like Caleb, he opens up our playbook offensively for us."

Hardin has a strong leg and good size (5-foot-10, 207 pounds) and drilled kickoff after kickoff into the end zone in high school. He'll have to learn to directionally kick instead of just pounding the ball, but he has had a full season to work on that.

Though Hardin is the frontrunner to win the kicking job, he will be pushed by senior Brad Phillips, who has filled in here and there when Sturgis was injured. He has made two of his four field goal attempts, both PATs, and has had four touchbacks on 27 kickoffs.