LAFAYETTE — Hunter Stover likes to tackle people.
He likes racing down the field after the ball is sent end-over-end on the kickoff and putting a lick on the guy dumb enough to try to run it back. Does it matter that he’s the guy kicking the ball off? Only to those with pre-established notions of what a kicker is supposed to be.
See, Hunter Stover isn’t just a kicker. He’s a missile kicker, one with a heat-seeking setting that is set to destroy.
The way Stover looks at it, he’s just one member of an 11-man kick coverage team. He just happens to be the guy with the best leg of the group.
“I feel like I could be a four or a three, a left bullet or right missile just like anybody else,” Stover said.
“I can just kick the ball the furthest out of those 11 guys. Might as well kick the ball off.”
For kickers, attention is normally a bad thing. People don’t notice a normal kicker’s existence until he misses a chip-shot field goal or a game-winner, then he’s public enemy No. 1.
But Stover isn’t a normal kicker. His thick and somewhat unruly red beard gets plenty of attention on its own. Watching it get splayed every which way as Stover attaches his helmet’s chin strap is comedy gold.
And people don’t care to talk to Stover about that field goal he drilled Saturday — he’s connected on 12 field goals, by the way, second-most in the Sun Belt Conference this year — they’re more interested in the kick returner he drilled.
Earlier this week, Stover saw one of his father’s friends at a local gas station.
His father’s friend introduced Stover to another friend.
“He introduced me to him, he said, ‘This is UL’s kicker,’” Stover said.
“And he said, ‘Oh, are you the one that runs downfield and makes all them tackles?’
“Everybody kind of likes a kicker that makes a tackle. I guess I’m that guy to a lot of people. But to my mom, I’m the guy that needs to shave.”
And to think Stover nearly quit being the missile kicker. He went through four years and two torn ACLs to get the starting place-kicker job, and when he finally was named the top kicker earlier this year, he thought his days of making tackles were over.
“To tell the truth, when I got the starting field goal job, I didn’t want to tackle anybody,” Stover said. “I was kind of nervous I would get hurt. Man, I didn’t want to tear another ACL.”
But the pull was there. He wasn’t having as much fun on kickoff watching his 10 buddies scream down the field like banshees.
“I felt like I couldn’t hold back anymore,” Stover said. “Might as well go make a play.”