LAFAYETTE — It’s funny to think that at the beginning of 2014, the Cajuns didn’t really know what they had in their specialists.
It’s a little like that old saying — you don’t know what you had ’til it’s gone.
The only difference is the now that it’s gone, the Cajuns also don’t really know what they have to replace it.
Both of the specialists, and that really hurts considering the type of year both of them had.
Place-kicker Hunter Stover turned a lot of heads in his career for the way he haphazardly slung his body at kick returners on the Cajuns’ kickoff team, but he may have impressed even more people with his kicking leg this season.
Stover was especially impressive down the stretch, when he made 12 of 14 field goal attempts in the Cajuns final six games. That’s an average of six points per game in a stretch of games the Cajuns won by an average score of nine points per game.
The Cajuns played a lot of close games this season, and if it wasn’t for Stover’s consistently accurate leg — which was a little something of a surprise for the first-year placekicker — they might not have come away with their fourth straight 9-4 season.
Punter Daniel Cadona had a little bit of an up-and-down senior season, but it was mostly up, and that should’ve been the most one would’ve expected of Cadona, who had never played football before last season.
Cadona turned in the best single season punting average in school history (42.9) and also the best career average (42.2). He could flip field position at times with booming kicks, and the Australia native was particularly deadly on Aussie style kicks.
Who’s coming back?
The Cajuns don’t really have anybody established as firm backups to either Cadona or Stover, but they could get some help from some young kids from the area.
Freshman Aaron Byrd, a non-scholarship player from Westgate in New Iberia, has been solid in portions of practice open to the media, and he got a couple nice punts off in fall scrimmages. He needs some work to become more consistent, but could be in the running at punter next season.
The Cajuns starting kicker might not even be on the roster yet. Stevie Artigue from Lafayette High is one of the most talented prep kickers in the state, with a booming and accurate leg.
There’s a lot of risk associated with trusting these positions to freshmen, especially with a kicker who hasn’t yet been on campus. But as of now, the Cajuns don’t have many options at their disposal.
Both the Cajuns primary return men — punt returner Elijah McGuire and kick returner Montrel Carter — are coming back, but the Cajuns will likely hold a competition there. Their return teams did not come up with as big as an impact as coach Mark Hudspeth, a special teams guy, would like.
Cajuns’ long snapper Stephen Morella and kick holder Jake Guidry both will return next season.
Concern level: High
The Cajuns might be rolling with an all-freshman specialists unit next season, and that should be a scary thought to any team that plays in a close game.