Editor’s note: We’re breaking down the Gators’ two-deep depth chart every day for the next two weeks. We’ll cover every position as well as offer a glimpse into the future. You can read the whole series here.
The lowdown: After a long stretch of above average seasons from its kicking specialists, Florida suffered through a down year in 2013. Hardin took over for Caleb Sturgis, the Gators' all-time leader in made field goals. It did not go well, as Hardin converted just 4 of 12 attempts. His mechanics broke down, causing Hardin to pull his kicks and lose confidence. His struggles caused coach Will Muschamp to give Velez, a walk-on, a chance. Although he made 6 of 8 kicks, Velez lacks Hardin's range. Their competition spilled into spring practice, when Muschamp praised Hardin's improved mechanics and renewed confidence. It showed in the spring game, when Hardin nailed all four of his attempts. He'll have to fend off the challenge of Velez and a couple of other walk-ons this fall, but Hardin is still standing as the incumbent starter. At punter, Florida went into the 2013 on cruise control with Christy, who was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award in 2012 after setting a school record with a 45.8-yard average. But Christy slumped to a 39.6-yard average in 2013 and was replaced midseason. Enter Townsend, a U.S Army All-American who flipped from Ohio State to Florida on signing day in 2013. Townsend handled UF's punting duties for the final six games, averaged 42 yards and was named to the SEC's All-Freshman Team. A more confident Christy battled Townsend to a draw during spring practice until Townsend was shut down to have wrist surgery. He's expected to be ready to resume the punting battle in preseason camp.
The future: Hardin, Florida's scholarship kicker, is just a sophomore. Ditto for Townsend, which means the Gators have time on their side. But while Muschamp is confident in his two punters, calling them both NFL-caliber, he is pushing hard to improve the placekicker position. There will be an open competition for the job, with a scholarship likely in the balance if one of Florida's preferred walk-ons can take the job. Abbott, a former U.S. Army All-American from Jacksonville, Florida, spent a season at Virginia Tech as a kickoff specialist before transferring to UF. Powell got a five-star rating from Kohl's Kicking Camp, which ranked him the No. 11 prospect in the Class of 2014.