Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of a 10-part series looking at the storylines to watch as the Cajuns approach their Aug. 5 report date for preseason practice.
LAFAYETTE — The kicking game can sometimes get lost in the margins in football, but it can easily be the force that sets the pendulum of momentum swinging the wrong way.
More often than not last season, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was on the good side of that pendulum swing.
Hunter Stover, in his first season as the starting place-kicker, connected on 18 of his 22 attempts.
He was also at his best when games were close, going 6-for-7 in the three games the Cajuns played that were decided by 10 or fewer points, including a 4-for-4 effort in the Cajuns 19-9 win against South Alabama.
Punter Daniel Cadona was also a relative newbie, having never kicked a football in a game before his junior year. But he was as dependable as they come in a Cajuns uniform, finishing his career as the school’s all-time leader in punting average at 42.3 yards per kick.
Though they weren’t experienced before the 2014 season began, the two developed into one of the better specialist pairs in the Sun Belt.
Now, the Cajuns are starting over from scratch with a new batch of inexperienced players.
The season opener against Kentucky will in all likelihood feature two specialists seeing a college field for the first time.
The Cajuns have a pair of players vying to replace Stover at kicker in walk-on Dylan Scheurich and Lafayette High product Stevie Artigue.
Scheurich joined the team as a walk-on last summer and enjoyed an impressive spring with the team to vault himself into consideration for the job.
In the spring game, Scheurich easily nailed a 47-yard attempt, and he consistently outperformed his teammates in practice sessions open to the media.
Artigue should enter preseason camp with a bit of a leg up on Scheurich as he is the only scholarship kicker on the roster.
While Stover was highly accurate last season, Artigue could add a dimension to the kicking game that was missing with Stover in 2014.
Stover’s range was limited inside of 40 yards for much of last season. His longest make in the regular season was 38 yards before he drilled a 46-yarder in the New Orleans Bowl.
Despite his slight 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame, Artigue comes to the Cajuns with a powerful leg. One YouTube clip shows him connecting on a 66-yard attempt on a practice field, and he showed 50-yard range in game conditions in high school.
Senior Carlos Alvarez is the only kicker on the roster with any game experience — he worked as the kickoff man for three games in 2011 — but he will likely see the field only in emergency situations.
The punting position is a bit more clear, as true freshman Australia native Steven Coutts looks well on his way toward replacing his countryman Cadona at the position after impressing coaches during spring practice.
At Sun Belt Media Day, Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said Coutts has the strongest leg he’s ever seen, a notch better than Cadona’s, the previous owner of that title.
Coutts never played American football while growing up in Australia, but he looked comfortable as he unveiled a full arsenal of kicks this spring.
The only other punter on the roster is local product Aaron Bird, who worked at both kicker and punter in the spring.
Much like last year, the specialists are an untested group going into 2015, and all the Cajuns can do is hope for similar results.