GAINESVILLE — In the beginning, it seemed like a completely rational idea.
After a stellar 2012 sophomore season in which he was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award given to the nation's best punter, Florida's Kyle Christy did what any competitor would.
He started thinking about ways to get better.
Christy didn't want to be among the best, he wanted to be the best. In 2012, he averaged a school-record 45.8 yards per punt, including a school-record 54.3 in a game against South Carolina. His 66 punts that season tied for fifth-best at UF. But in his effort to improve, he somehow lost his way.
"Before the season I was trying to change stuff up, and obviously it didn't work out; it threw me off," Christy said. "I had some things I could improve on — like faster operation time or hang time — just to get even better. But I tried to change, and then it obviously didn't work that well. There are a lot of golf analogies about trying to change your swing. It didn't work out."
He wasn't alone. He and kicker Austin Hardin lost their jobs — Hardin to a walkon. Although he converted all 15 of his PATs, Hardin was just 4-for-12 on field goals. The Gators were 12-for-22 in field goals — 1-for-7 outside 40 yards.
"They were all field goals I think I should have made, even though some of them were farther, I've been able to make farther field goals," said Hardin, a redshirt sophomore from Atlanta. "There was no excuse why I shouldn't have been making those.
"A lot of it was mental, and there were some things in my technique that needed to be drastically changed. There were some things I picked up after my freshman year, I had an injury the year I redshirted, and there were some things I picked up along the way.
"So we went back and looked at some old, old film and then compared it to what I was doing and obviously there was a difference. So working on some of those changes and getting things back is what really helped me."
Christy averaged just 39.6 yards per punt last season, his hang time wasn't nearly the same and he struggled with his placement. The kicking struggles had a profound effect on the Gators. Florida finished 11th in the SEC in punting, and scored just 60 total points in league play (lowest in the league).
"We've got to be able to kick the ball better and flip the field defensively when we're punting the ball," coach Will Muschamp said. "You look at the field position chart and how difficult it is to move the ball against a good defense, which I think we'll have, being able to flip the field and field position is huge. … I think you build confidence through having very positive reps, and I think they had a lot of positive reps through spring."
Christy and Johnny Townsend, a sophomore from Orlando, are locked in a position battle, and each said he believes the competition will make the other better. For Hardin and Christy, the desire to prove themselves again to teammates is a motivating factor.
"Every team that's won a championship has always had a successful special teams," Austin said. "We have to hold up our end if we're going to be very successful as a team this year."
Contact Antonya English at [email protected] Follow @TB Times_ Gators.