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Gradual improvement

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s transition from All-American kicker Caleb Sturgis to redshirt freshman Austin Hardin has been predictably bumpy.

Hardin -- the nation’s top rated kicking prospect in 2010 according to ESPN -- is just 4-of-7 on field goals this season with a career-long of 33 yards.

Following Florida’s win over Tennessee, coach Will Muschamp put both specialists (Hardin and punter Kyle Christy) on notice and Hardin heard the warning loud and clear.

“It just pushes me to continue to learn and get better,” he said. “I think me being a young guy of course he doesn’t want me to be kinda like complacent in the spot I’m in. He wants to keep pushing me and I think they have every right to do that and it makes sense to keep the competition open and keep pushing me to do my best week in and week out. Because I think I have the potential and can do a really good job here.”

Hardin missed a 53-yard kick in the win over Kentucky, but connected on his second attempt (33) and also had four touchbacks.

It was an encouraging performance, according to Muschamp.

“I was very pleased with four out of five touchbacks we were able to pin ‘em back, very pleased with how Austin kicked in the game. The 53-yarder I had all the confidence in the world he would make it he made ‘em all in pregame and you gotta put ‘em out in those situation and let ‘em kick. Really pleased with how he handled last week, the challenge and the opportunity that we presented in front of him, very pleased with his performance.”

For what it's worth: Hardin’s confidence has never waned.

“I think I just take it kick by kick and forget all the other ones to be honest," he explained. "I really don’t keep track of it. I just go out there and take it kick by kick. If I make it I make it if I miss it I miss it. I try not to think about where I am on the year or where I missed from or how may misses I have on the year. It’s one kick and that’s kick at that time.”

The Gators doesn’t need -- or expect -- Hardin to be Sturgis. They just want him to perform better. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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