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Football: Football field like the old front porch for Cajun kicking specialists

Tim Buckley, Daily Advertiser, October 20, 2013

UL kicker Stephen Brauchle (33) sends one through the uprights as John Broussard (82) snaps and Jake Guidry (40) holds Friday during UL football practice.

UL kicker Stephen Brauchle (33) sends one through the uprights as John Broussard (82) snaps and Jake Guidry (40) holds Friday during UL football practice. / Leslie Westbrook/The Advertiser

If they gather 40 years from now, perhaps sitting around a table at some diner or coffee shop that isn’t even open yet, John Broussard can just imagine the tales that will be told.

Some might even be true.

There are bound to be stories, Broussard said, like “the day Smoke took a ball from the Jugs to the face, or the day when Cadona kicked the ball and got it stuck in the ceiling.”

Ah, the good ol’ days, at UL, circa 2013, when deep-snapper Broussard and the Ragin’ Cajun football team’s other specialty-team types – punter Daniel Cadona, kicker Stephen Brauchle, holder/backup snapper Jake Guidry, reserve long-snapper Stephen Morella and “Smoke,” a.k.a. kickoff man Hunter Stover – seek all sorts of creative ways to pass hours upon and hours during a week’s worth of practice that focuses mostly on offense, defense and every-down guys.

“It feels like we’re at the complex 25 hours a day,” Stover said, “and there’s so much downtime between everybody’s meetings.

Meetings are popular for any football program.

Offensive meetings. Defensive meetings. Running back meetings, receiver meetings, quarterback meetings. Linebacker meetings, secondary meetings. Even the linemen meet, and not just to plan dinner. If there were time to meet to schedule the next meeting, some coach probably would call for it.

“We’re always joking that we’re having our ‘specialists’ meeting,” Stover said. “That’s usually in the lockerroom – on the couches, watching TV.”

Or playing on their phones.

“I really don’t want to know what they do to kill time,” joked Cajuns head coach Mark Hudspeth, who doubles as UL’s special teams coach. “Because I probably wouldn’t like it a whole lot.”

The truth, though, is that the downtime is more about football and harmless fun that it is about high jinks, misadventure or rabble-rousing.

Cadona, after all, wasn’t really trying for a punt that never did come down at the team’s indoor practice facility.

And Stover didn’t intend to step in front of the Jugs machine, which typically fires footballs to receivers, not at bushy-bearded kickers.

The specialists, they swear to a man, really do have work to do.

They’ll start practice, and sometimes finish, with field-goal work. Scripted practice periods follow for about hour, when it’s time for punt work.

“We try to make Stephen (Brauchle) and Smoke (Stover) move around as much as we can,” Broussard said. “Try to get them in game situations with snaps and stuff, then we get ready with Cadona.

“The second half, the kickers usually do their own thing, and me or Jake (Guidry) or Smoke, we’ll go hop in the pit with (strength-and-conditioning) Coach (Rusty) Whitt, hang out and get a workout in.”

There’s opportunity to simply watch practice, too.

“We like to kind of scout out who’s doing good, who’s doing bad,” Guidry said.

Inevitably there’s ample time with no specified practice duty, and the specialty guys have to find something else to do.

“We do get our stuff done,” Morella said, “but you can’t do that all practice.”

Hudspeth understands.

“Those guys, for the most part, coach themselves as far as their technique,” he said. “We’ll work with them also, but kickers are just a little bit different.

“They have their own style of kicking, and it’s hard to change them. Just like changing a batter’s swing, or a golfer’s swing – sometimes you have to be careful with that.”

It’s that way at programs across the country, and at many schools the kickers, snappers and holders seek another outlet – like shooting hoops at the closest gym – to pass the hours.

At UL, they must stay close to the practice field – and therefore frequently can be found in a corner of the indoor facility while the rest of the Cajuns work outside.

Broussard calls it “kind of the ‘specialist cave.’ ”

When they’re not kicking, punting, snapping, holding, lifting, working on onside kicks and other tricks – special-teams assistant Hunter Bonvillain does have a script for them to follow – they’re bound to be either simply shooting the breeze or competing at something.

“A few boys like to think they’re stronger or tougher than the others,” Cadona said, “so we usually have a bit of fun with that.”

One favorite game for the Cajun specialists involves tossing passes at the indoor-field goalpost stanchion, to determine who has the most-accurate arm among a group that doesn’t exactly have any candidates to replace starting quarterback Terrance Broadway.

But there are other elements involved, including bonus points for deflections and rebounding.

Consider it “H-O-R-S-E” with a pigskin-twist.

“Jake Guidry did hold the title,” said Morella, who sometimes is pulled away from the group for scout-team duties. “But from what I hear Daniel (Cadona) kind of took over.”

When they’re not in competition, story-time starts.

“Whatever comes up,” Morella said.

“Someone’s usually having a laugh,” Cadona said. “We talk about everything.”

Some narratives, evidently, are more believable than others.

“You’ve got to watch (Stover),” Morella said. “It’s probably a little half-and-half.”

“You know Brauchle’s stories are true, because he can prove them on YouTube,” Guidry added. “All of Brauchle’s stories are about kicking.”

Guidry’s award for funniest stories is a tie, because of “Morella’s bluntness” and “Daniel’s accent.”

Cadona is a first-year Cajun from Australia, which more often not than makes things … interesting.

“A lot of time we’ll just chew the fat and have a bit of a yarn,” Cadona said.

Huh?

What?

“You can always count on Daniel to have something fun,” Guidry said. “Sometimes we’ve got to ask him what he means, then he’ll explain it. His Australian slang is just out of this world.”

Only from down under, actually.

Broussard said Cadona will drop “just a random word of the day.”

“And you have no idea what it means,” he said. “(It’s) like on ESPN in the spelling bee – ‘Can I get that in a sentence?’ ”

Confusion, however, is sometimes a two-way street for a certain Aussie living in Cajun country.

“Especially when Stover starts to yell French at him,” Broussard said.

Brauchle treasures the time Cadona tried to employ a popular American phrase.

“He was trying to go ‘like a wrecking ball’ and knock somebody out on one of our fakes,” Brauchle said, and he says ‘ball’ like ‘bull.’ ”

Like a wrecking bull. Not to be confused with a crashing kangaroo.

But the hands-down honor for best stories?

“Definitely Smoke,” said Guidry, adding that Stover’s tales typically drift toward “hunting, or dancing at a festival.”

“He’s definitely a character. He’s always got some crazy story to say. It’s never anything you expect, either,” Broussard added with reference to the Notre Dame High product from Abbeville. “I’m sure it gets bigger every time he tells the story. But they’re always entertaining. Any rice festival, shrimp festival, crawfish festival you can find, Smoke Stover is there. Guaranteed.”

Stover suggested his stories hinge in large part on how he’s kicking in practice on any particular day.

“It depends what kind of mood I’m in,” he said. “You can joke around a lot more when you’re doing well.”

Stover’s vote, meanwhile, goes to Morella, a sophomore in school.

“He’s got all the stories,” Stover said. “On all his younger days. When he was a freshman.”

That would be last year.

Ba-dum-bump.

When it’s time to be serious, however, the Cajun specialists are ready on a moment’s notice.

That’s the case in practice, and it mimics what often happens in a game.

“You’ve to be ready any time,” Guidry said.

“Especially with our offense, you never know when they’re gonna score,” Broussard added. “We’ve had big plays out of nowhere.”

One moment the specialists think they’re preparing for a Cadona punt. The next, it’s either a field goal and extra point for Brauchle.

“We have to be able to perform whenever our number’s called,” Broussard said. “So having that downtime in practice, where we’re doing nothing, then all of a sudden you hear Coach Hud (say), ‘Red field goal, red field goal, you have 10 seconds’ – it definitely helps.

“Having that (camaraderie), and being that close, helps you a lot on the field.

“We’re always together. Whether we’re doing nothing, or in the middle of a game, (I) have to have a connection with the guy back behind me,” Broussard added. “I have to know Jake (Guidry) is ready. And he’s got to rely on Stephen (Brauchle). I mean, it’s all one unit. You can’t be an individual.”

Broussard can envision all within the group remaining friends for years to come, and he isn’t alone.

Four of the six, after all, are locals. Like Morella, he is a Lafayette High product.

Stover is as South Louisiana as it gets. Guidry is from Carencro High. Brauchle is from Mississippi, but that’s not far away. And who knows? Perhaps Cadona will live the life of an Aussie Cajun even after his UL days are done.

“We all have a good time,” Stover said. “Everybody kind of brings up the morale when we need it.”

“We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well, so it’s kind of like just a bunch of friends hanging out,” Morella added. “We spend a lot of time together.”

Maybe that coffee-shop gathering really will happen after all, if not weekly or monthly over the decades, then at least that one day they all decide it’s time tell some more stories.

“It’s just a great group of guys to have around you,” Broussard said. “You don’t want to think you’re gonna be broken up.”
_________

UL at Arkansas State

Game: 7 p.m., Tuesday, in Jonesboro, Ark.
Records: UL 4-2, 2-0; ASU 3-3, 1-0.
TV: ESPN2.
Radio: 107.9 FM/1420 AM.
Series: UL leads 21-19-1.