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Sturgis could revitalize kicking game at UF

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Posted: Monday, April 14, 2008 12:00 am

It's the storyline fans have been tired of hearing about and the Gators have been sick of talking about for the past two seasons.

UF's kicking game has left a lot to be desired recently, as Chris Hetland's and Joey Ijjas field-goal attempts often resulted in them walking away with their heads turned down and the referees signaling "No good."

Freshman Caleb Sturgis is looking to change that.

The St. Augustine High product used Saturday afternoon's Orange and Blue Debut to display the leg strength that has become the stuff of folklore.

In front of a spring game-record crowd of 61,000, coach Urban Meyer unveiled his newest weapon.

Sturgis attempted several field goals over 50 yards, but he appeared to be uneasy early on as he kicked in front of a large crowd and a national television audience on ESPN.

"On the first few, I was a little nervous," he said. "The speed of the game is so much different, but after those, I started to relax. This is where I want to be, and I'm happy to be here. I felt like I was comfortable."

Sturgis missed his first three attempts from beyond 50 yards but quickly responded in dramatic fashion. Blue-team kicker Jonathan Phillips missed two 60-yard attempts, and Sturgis was given an opportunity to redeem himself. The incoming freshman stepped up and sailed it 60 yards through the uprights.

"(Meyer) told me before the game that he was going to let me kick from 60 yards," Sturgis said. "I tried to be mentally ready, but you've still got to look up and make it."

Meyer spent a large portion of his postgame press conference praising Sturgis' intensity and the mental toughness he displayed in front of a large crowd with even bigger expectations.

"That was a great experience," Meyer said. "I know he wasn't perfect, but player development is a process, and anyone who doesn't think that doesn't know football. To have a guy come in here, regardless of whether he's a five-star or four-star recruit or whatever that nonsense is on Rivals or Scout.com and all the other expert opinions, because first, you have to learn how to play."

Meyer will be pleased to know that Sturgis has spent years developing his ability to block out distractions.

"I try not to ever think about that," Sturgis said of being on national television. "I've played a few games on national TV. Being a kicker, a lot of (making kicks) is mental, and you've just got to be able to get it out of your head right away. I know it'll be different with people behind the posts cheering against me, but I'll take it as it comes."

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