Saturday, June 23, 2018
Colleges

Gators have kicking issues during spring practice

GAINESVILLE — Kyle Christy had been sitting patiently, answering questions about the shoulder injury that has kept the Florida junior punter out of spring practice for the past several weeks. But all along, he secretly hoped one question would never come up.

Then out of nowhere, it did: "Kyle, how did you hurt your shoulder?"

"It's embarrassing," Christy said this week. "I fell off my scooter. I was hoping you wouldn't ask that."

The fall, just before the 2012 season, caused a torn labrum. But his desire to play prompted him to delay surgery.

"If I would have had surgery, then I would have had to miss the entire season," Christy said. "So I waited until after the season."

It turned out to be a good decision for Florida. Christy averaged 45.8 yards, fifth in Division I-A and first in the SEC, with 27 of 66 punts inside the 20-yard line. He had a punt of 50 yards or more in 10 of 13 games, earned a spot on the coaches' and writers' all-SEC first team and was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy award for the nation's best punter.

"There's no question he's a valuable part of our team," Florida coach Will Muschamp said.

As spring practice comes to a close today, the Gator kickers have been a major story line. While Christy has been sidelined, Florida must find a replacement for Caleb Sturgis, an all-SEC first-teamer and finalist for the Lou Groza award as the nation's top placekicker.

"Losing Caleb is a huge blow to our football team," Muschamp said. "We need one of those guys to step up and certainly contribute for us."

The competition at the beginning of spring began with senior Brad Phillips and redshirt freshman Austin Hardin. Midway through, Muschamp's assessment wasn't glowing: "Both of them need to kick a lot better."

Since then, redshirt junior walk-on Frank Velez has joined the competition.

"Umm, I'm not going to lie. We're missing Sturgis right now," Christy said. "But … it's definitely not because of lack of effort. But I think they'll get out of it by the time the season starts."

In the meantime, Christy has about one month remaining before he can fully participate again, which means his individual summer workouts will be critical. He has been able to punt but not catch snaps. This is the longest he has been unable to participate in football.

"Coming off the surgery, I just want to get back to where I was and try to become more consistent," Christy said. "It's just hard after taking a big break."

As for the kickers, the final week appears to have been their best.

"Brad Phillips … kicked very well (Monday)," Muschamp said Tuesday. "We had a couple of game-ending situations at practice. He hit both field goals when he was called to.

"We had some … work in the red zone, and he kicked every one of them. He's really kicking well. Austin has done some nice things. Frank Velez has come along as a third kicker we've kind of thrown in the competition.

"Certainly, no one has taken the job yet. But I've been very pleased with our progress."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @TBTimes_Gators.

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