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Football: Hunter Stover has a steady foot for the Cajuns

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, November 4, 2014



UL kicker Hunter Stover celebrates with UL fan Blake Chachers following UL’s win over Arkansas State. (Photo: Leslie Westbrook/The Advertiser)


He’s been growing his rather voluminous beard since before the UL football team played its spring game last April, with one itty-bitty exception.

It was trimmed a tad for his brother’s wedding last month, when neatness temporarily trumped reckless abandon.

For Hunter Stover, perhaps the only thing that’s lasted longer than that has been his waiting for the opportunity to do this time against South Alabama what he could not last time.

That would be kick a ball through the uprights.

It wasn’t that Stover was incapable that chilly night early last December in Mobile.

It’s just that he never got the chance.

Here it was his first game as UL’s starting field-goal and extra-point kicker, the job he’d been waiting for ever since serious knee injuries early in his Ragin’ Cajun career spoiled any shot he’d have at playing linebacker, and the Cajuns never did try to score with a kick.

They had only one touchdown that night, and went for two instead of a PAT in a 30-8 loss to Jaguars that cost UL an outright Sun Belt Conference title that it wound up sharing with Arkansas State.

No wonder Stover, a Notre Dame High product from Abbeville, was so happy with what happened last Saturday.

"So it’s nice," he said, "to come back this year at home and actually make some field goals and help the team against South Alabama."

Stover wound up 4-of-4 on field goals, hitting from 23, 26, 22 and – with what held up as the game-winner in the fourth quarter – 32 yards out in a 19-9 victory over the Jaguars that improved UL to 5-3 overall and 4-0 in Sun Belt play.

The victory allows the Cajuns to take a four-game win streak to Saturday night’s SBC game at 2-7 New Mexico State.

The senior also made his only PAT on Saturday, helping him to earn Louisiana Sports Writers Association state special teams Player of the Week honors.

The career-high four field goals Stover made against USA has him 10-of-10 this season from inside of 40 yards, something he considers to be fully expected in a day’s work.

In a game as tight as that one was, though, the four were more difficult than most chippies.

They came with extra meaning.

Even that reality, though, doesn’t seem to faze Stover, whose only misses this season are a 51-yarder in a loss to Louisiana Tech and a 46-yarder in a victory at Texas State.

"Pressure always kind of adds to stuff," he said, "but as much as we practice – and as much time as me and (snapper) Stephen Morella and (holder) and Jake Guidry spend together – I feel like, no matter what the situation is, we can always pull through with something."

Especially from such reasonable distances.

Further complicating matters, though, is that the short ones aren’t always straight on.

Yet not even that seems to bother Stover, who beat out Stephen Brauchle late last season and retained over the offseason.

(Brauchle transferred to Southern Mississippi shortly before the start of the season.)

"If you line yourself up," Stover said, "it should be straight every time.

"It is a little different angle, but it’s all the same kick. It always should be the same thing: Just get it up, and get it through."

UL coach Mark Hudspeth said he would have sent Stover out for a couple of longer kickers Saturday, including one that would have been a 51-yarder had no yards been gained, but both times the Cajuns wound up picking up a first down.

That left Stover with the short ones, which he gladly would have traded on a night UL struggled at 1-of-6 on touchdown scored after reaching the red zone.

"If Coach Hud trusts me enough to send out there," he said, "I’m definitely grateful.

"I definitely feel like any opportunity I can get to get on the field and get some points on the board I need to," added Stover, whose longest makes this season are three from 32. "But, definitely in a type-game like that … (it’s) better for us to get touchdowns."

Stover’s 13 points Saturday gave him 42 on the season, which ranks 10th overall among Sun Belt scoring leaders and third in SBC kick-scoring.

But that’s not the only way he’s contributing.

The ex-linebacker in Stover, much like his longer-by-the-day beard, is still alive and well.

He has four total tackles this season, giving him 28 in a kickoff career that dates to 2011 – with 22 of them being solo stops.

Three of the four this year came in a key Sun Belt-televised win over Arkansas State.

Asked after the South Alabama win if he’d rather make a tackle or a field goal, Stover was as evasive as potato chip crumbs in a field of whiskers.

"Whatever helps the team," he said with a laugh. "I only get a few times to be on the field, so I kind of just make them count."

Whatever they are, and wherever they’re from.