Caleb Sturgis dreamed as a youngster about playing tight end in the NFL, then stopped growing when he reached 5-foot-9, so he'll happily settle for a place-kicking job with the Miami Dolphins.
Sturgis beat out incumbent Dan Carpenter and was the only place-kicker in training camp Thursday, but he wasn't about to gloat.
"There's no celebrating this," said Sturgis, a fifth-round draft pick from Florida. "Every day you come out here and need to get better, because there are a lot of people who want to be in the position you're in."
Sturgis, 24, also refrained from any public fist-pumping out of respect for Carpenter, whose hefty contract was terminated Wednesday after five years with the Dolphins. He made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and was popular with teammates, especially long snapper John Denney and punter Brandon Fields, who doubled as Carpenter's holder.
The trio had been together since Carpenter's rookie season in 2008.
"It's just a fact of the business that this is going to happen," Fields said. "It's going to happen to everybody. Sooner or later you're going to get off the train, whether you're kicked off or you leave of your own accord. So you have to know it going into it and be professional about it."
Carpenter went 22 for 27 last year, but three of his misses came in overtime losses. His $2.7 million contract this year left him vulnerable to a cheaper alternative, and Sturgis' average salary over the next four years will be $576,140.
The rookie made coach Joe Philbin's easier with a strong performance in Friday's exhibition game at Jacksonville, when he made a 58-yard field goal and sent all six of his kickoffs into the end zone.
Sturgis wasn't doing much celebrating then, either.
"I liked his demeanor on the sideline during the game," Philbin said. "He was very professional. He wasn't jumping up and down. He just did his job well. He's very serious about what he's doing."
The timing of the decision, Philbin said, was best for both players. It gives Carpenter more time to land a spot with another team before the season, and it means Sturgis will do all the kicking in the three remaining exhibition games.
"The more game-like situations he can get in, the better," Philbin said.
Sturgis had plenty of big-game experience at Florida, where he was a four-year letterman and kicked a school-record 70 field goals in 88 tries. He doesn't anticipate the pressure of performing in the NFL to be much more intense.
"Kicking a ball is kicking a ball," he said. "As long as that's what you focus on, there's not a big difference."
Sturgis' brother, Nathan, plays for the Colorado Rapids in Major League Soccer. Caleb played both football and soccer in high school at St. Augustine, Fla.
His first kicking coach was former Florida State kicker Dan Mowrey, who is remembered for Wide Right II, a missed field goal on the final play of the Seminoles' 19-16 loss to Miami in 1992.
Mowrey quickly saw Sturgis' potential as a kicker.
"He told me it's something I could do — at least get my education paid for," Sturgis said. "That's all I really wanted to take it up for at that point."
Now he'll earn a paycheck. To help keep him humble, Sturgis was lugging Fields' helmet and shoulder pads after practice, in keeping with NFL hazing traditions.
"I'm still a rookie," Sturgis said.
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