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Florida Gators Have Open Tryout for Replacement Kicker

Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

WANTED:

One placekicker for nationally ranked college football team; no previous college football experience necessary; must be enrolled at University of Florida with 12 credit hours; must have strong leg, able to kick oblong ball distances of 50 yards/150 feet (maybe more); also able to kick oblong ball with great distance and great accuracy through a big U between two large metal posts measuring 18-and-a-half feet wide; also able to kick a long ball great distances with great accuracy with 11 angry men rushing toward you; good benefits, including all-expense paid training table, medical staff, travel, and ability to become instant Big Man On Campus (or BWOC) as game situations dictate; also must be hearty soul able to withstand wrath of social media for missing kicks; apply within; serious inquiries only.

Ah, the placekicker. In the National Football League last year, kickers made 85 percent of their overall field goal attempts and 93 percent of kicks attempted within the 40-yard line, a success rate so great that the league experimented in the Pro Bowl in February with reducing the width of the uprights by 25 percent.

Apparently, it’s too easy to make a kick in the NFL.

If only that were true at the University of Florida.

Actually, it’s not a talent problem but a numbers problem. Placekicker Austin Hardin has a leg injury and has been out. His replacement, redshirt freshman Jorge Powell, suffered an injury in the loss to LSU this past week. Florida has a bye before it plays Georgia on Oct. 31, so it’s possible Powell will be fine by then, but the Gators aren’t taking any chances.

Florida is looking for a few good men – or women – who can kick the football. So it put out a football version of an SOS, inviting Florida students to come to an open tryout on Wednesday at the team’s practice facility. More than 200 responded to the invitation and 77 actually showed up to show off their skills – including two women.

This is an awesome story.

Repeat.

This. Is. An. Awesome. Story.

And for one simple reason – engaging the students. Big-time college athletics can sometimes have a disconnect with students, who make up a huge portion of the fan base. In many instances, athletes live separately from the rest of the student body and have access to more amenities – thinking training table, medical staff, etc. – than the rest of their classmates.

Did coach Jim McElwain do this out of desperation? I’m not naïve enough to think that McElwain realized he might need a kicker – or at least a backup kicker – on the roster when the Gators play the Bulldogs in 10 days. And it’s not like he can just sign somebody off the waiver wire. But Florida has two major soccer programs he could turn to, men’s and women’s, and, who knows, maybe there’s a high school kicker on campus who decided to instead pursue a big-time degree at UF instead of simply extending his kicking career at a Division II or III level.

But the simple gesture of reaching out to the students will go a long way. It will make at least 77 of them feel like they are truly part of the program, and in this day and age of social media you can be assured the return investment from those 77 who showed up for the open tryout will reap untold benefits.

Will Florida get a kicker out of it?

Probably not.

Will Florida get any more fans out of it?

Probably not, considering they are UF students and already fans.

Will Florida get anything out of it?

You bet. It just banked some goodwill at a time when we think of our major athletic programs as robotic, stiff and detached.

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