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Football: The pressure’s on – Brauchle ready to fill shoes of UL’s heroic kicker

Tim Buckley, Daily Advertiser, August 10, 2013

As Stephen Brauchle lines up to kick, Brett Baer is the last thing on his mind.

He knows the name.

Knows him personally, actually.

Knows all about what the prolific Baer, who hit a walk-off 50-yarder in the Superdome to beat San Diego State in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl and give UL its first postseason win since the 1944 Oil Bowl, has meant to Ragin’ Cajun football in recent seasons.

But UL’s new kicker, now one week into 2013 preseason training camp with the Cajuns, can’t consume himself with history.

“I don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, I’m the next Brett Baer,’ you know? I want to make a name for my own self,” said Brauchle, 247Sports.com’s No. 3-ranked junior college kicker last recruiting season. “I want it to be like, ‘That’s Stephen Brauchle.’ Or, ‘That’s our kicker right there.’ ”

An honorable mention junior-college All-American after going 7-of-9 on field-goal attempts and 50-for-54 on extra-point tries in his lone season last fall at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Brauchle – don’t misunderstand – doesn’t shy from trying to fill Baer’s proverbial shoe in Lafayette.

He even followed Baer’s own advice to take his best shot.

But he knows just how big that boot is.

“I never worry about that,” Brauchle said. “I just worry about me.”

Committed to Florida International for about a month before the Panthers surprisingly fired coach Mario Cristobal early last December, Brauchle turned his attention to UL when circumstances changed in South Florida.

“Coach Stringer (Reed Stringer, UL’s recruiting coordinator) came and saw me the next day (after Cristobal’s dismissal),” Brauchle said, “and Coach Hud (Mark Hudspeth, UL’s head coach) offered me.”

When Brauchle visited Lafayette, his host was Baer – an undrafted free agent now in St. Louis’ NFL training camp, and a Mississippi high school product just like Brauchle.

One kicker enthusiastically sold the other on UL.

“He really assured,” Brauchle said, “that I was gonna be in the right place, and it’s a good time to be here.”

UL, after all, is coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons and – including a 2012 win over East Carolina in the Superdome that Brauchle watched in person with his father, Steve – back-to-back New Orleans Bowl victories.

And the Cajuns, with Baer having been a senior in 2012, needed a kicker.

Enter Brauchle, though even he doesn’t profess he’ll do all Baer did – field goals, extra points, onside kicks, punts and, frequently, kickoffs.

At Gulfport High in Gulfport, Miss., where he was 10-of-10 on field-goal attempts and 27-for-31 on PATs as a senior, Brauchle also averaged 46.5 yards on 41 punts with 23 landing inside the 20-yard line.

But UL also signed a big-legged punter in Aussie import Daniel Cadona, and the Cajuns already had a kickoff specialist in returning Hunter Stover.

Their presence helps Brauchle handle the reality that so many at UL feel they had a great one in Baer – and the next one better be super too.

“I think Coach Hud (Hudspeth) put it in a good way: ‘It took three guys to replace Brett – you know, me, Daniel and Hunter,” said Brauchle, who also appeared in six games and scored a goal last season for Mississippi Gulf Coast CC’s soccer team last season too.

“So I feel like we’re gonna be a good threat still,” he added, “because we’re not gonna drop the level of play of special teams at all.”

As for whatever outside pressures may be on him as the Cajuns to prepare to open their 2013 season on Aug. 31 at Arkansas, Brauchle doesn’t let any of it bother him.

“I just take it kick-by-kick,” he said. “I can only control what I can control.”

That includes where he wanted to play.

So Brauchle – who also visited East Carolina – enrolled at UL last January and took part in spring practice.

His first couple weeks admittedly were a little rough, as the tempo of NCAA Division I play and practices are higher than in junior college and his body is undergoing a transformation under the watchful eye of UL’s strength-and-conditioning specialists.

Yet he nailed a 50-yarder in the Cajuns’ spring game, and now he feels he has range out to 55 yards.

But what about a 50-yarder with a bowl game on the line?

Brauchle, who can’t quite envision himself even being in that situation yet, giggles when asked.

“You should see how many times we’ve actually done that at practice,” he said. “Coach Hud is always in my ear.”

Brauchle’s voice drops to a whisper.

“ ‘Game winner,’ ” he said, mimicking Hudspeth.

Hudspeth is confident his new kicker can make those.

He’s not alone.

“He’s a little competitor,” the Cajun coach said of Brauchle, “and I like a kicker with a little bit of attitude. … He’s very confident. That’s what I told him: ‘You don’t lack in confidence.’ ”

What Brauchle is shy on, however, is experience with 300-pound DI linemen rushing his kicks up the middle and speedy DI defenders coming off the edge.

“The first day (of camp last Monday), a little shaky,” Hudspeth said. “Day 1, you throw a bunch of bad guys running right at you, that changes things a little bit. … Day 1, I didn’t think he struck the ball overly impressive.”

But that changed deeper into the week, even as Brauchle also assumed Stover’s kickoff reps while his teammate nursed a hamstring injury.

“The last (few) days he has really been impressive with his kickoffs, with good hang times,” Hudspeth said. “His field goals have had good punch to them, good height.”

It’s all about repetitive motion, Brauchle suggested.

And that’s all he’s concerning himself with for now.

“Every kick’s the same kick,” he said, “no matter if it’s the game-winner or first extra point.”

Brauchle runs down his routine without missing a beat.

The key to handling pressure, he believes, is to simply breath.

“It’s really just taking three steps back, two steps over, take your last look, breath, let ’em know you’re ready and stroke it,” Brauchle said.

He tunes out everything else, sneaking a peak only at the placement of the ball on his holder’s hands.

“Snap of the ball … following through … through the uprights,” Brauchle said.

All he hears is the “thump of the ball.”

“You usually know when it hits your foot,” Brauchle said “if it’s good or not.”

He thinks about only that, and nothing else.

Not the circumstances.

Not what may be at stake.

And certainly not Brett Baer, or a certain 50-yarder headed for the uprights in New Orleans.

Brauchle wasn’t there in 2011. But he can imagine what that thump must have felt like.

“I’ve seen the replays,” he said, “and you just get chills.”

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