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Football: UL, ULM divide doesn’t split family

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, November 15, 2014



UL is defeated 31-28 by UL-Monroe in a 2013 NCAA football game at Cajun Field. The teams face off again this weekend, this time on Cajuns’ turf. (Photo: Leslie Westbrook/The Advertiser)


It was early in senior Hunter Stover’s football career playing for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the Ragin’ Cajun kicker caught his grandfather’s eye.

UL players were making their usual Cajun Walk shortly before a home game against in-state rival University of Louisiana at Monroe, and there was Stewart "Smokey" Stover in the crowd.

Next thing Hunter knew, Smokey was stripping.

"I gave him a hug," Hunter said, "and he kind of unbuttoned his shirt a little bit, and it had ‘Northeast Indians’ on it. I started laughing.

"But he had a button-down UL shirt (over it)," he added, "so it was pretty funny."

In 1958 and ’59, Smokey Stover played for ULM, or Northeast Louisiana State College, as it was known then, and both years — including one game at old McNaspy Stadium — his Indians beat UL, then called Southwestern Louisiana Institute of Liberal and Technical Learning.

He went on to play seven seasons in the AFL and NFL, including an appearance with the Kansas City Chiefs in the first-ever Super Bowl.

But Hunter’s family connection to ULM doesn’t stop there.

Smokey’s wife, Johnette, was a cheerleader at Northeast.

Hunter’s father, Smokey Jr., his mother, Connie, and his sister Brittany all graduated from ULM.

Connie, like her husband, attended both UL and ULM

"She cheered at both schools," Smokey Jr., said, "so she’s all confused, as well."

It’s little wonder that the Cajuns’ visit Saturday night to Monroe’s Warhawks Stadium is one of mixed emotions.

Smokey is "proud of where he played, back when it was Northeast," Smokey Jr. said of his father, a fullback and linebacker when he was a team MVP in college, a linebacker in the NFL and an original Class of 1978 inductee into the ULM Sports Hall of Fame.

"(With) what he accomplished up there, I think he’s a diehard NLU fan — and I think it’s hard for him to watch. But I clearly think blood is thicker than water," Smokey Jr. said.

While Smokey has UL Monroe on his mind, Smokey Jr. believes he has the Cajuns — and Hunter — in his heart.

"Any time we play ULM, I wear my ULL shirt on top and my ULM shirt underneath," Smokey added. "That says I’m supporting my grandson and his team at that time — but I’ve still got a little bit of ULM in me."

Deep roots

Born in Oklahoma, but told he was too small to play at the University of Tulsa, Smokey Stover went to a junior college first before heading to Monroe.

When he left Northeast Louisiana, Smokey — now 76 — tried out for the AFL’s original 1960 Dallas Texans, predecessor to today’s NFL Kansas City Chiefs.


 From left: Smokey Stover Sr., Hunter Stover and Smokey

From left: Smokey Stover, Sr., Hunter Stover, and Smokey Stover, Jr. (Contributed photo)


He’s shared some of his favorites stories with his grandson over the years. One centering on how he fudged his way onto Dallas’ roster is a doozy.

The Texans had five linebackers in their first training camp, and head coach Hank Stram intended to keep only four.

"I lost so much weight (in camp) I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to make it or not," said Smokey, who was 188 pounds at the time.

So, shortly before final cuts came, he and his roommate concocted a plan for late-camp weigh-ins.

"I took two 10-pound weights, and put them under my arms," Smokey said.

"He (the roommate) wrapped an Ace bandage real tight around my chest, and I got an oversized T-shirt — extra, extra large — and I held my arms real tight and got up on the scale, and that’s what I weighed."

Two-hundred and eight pounds, that is.

At the end of the season, Stover fessed up.

"After I’d made it, I told this coach (assistant Bill Walsh) … my story, and he started dying laughing," he said, "because he said he and Coach Stram had a knock-down, drag-out, and Stram said, ‘That kid is a bag of bones; he can’t weigh 208.’ "

Super Bowl I

Smokey Stover still has a ticket from the Jan. 15, 1967, AFL-NFL World Championship, later dubbed Super Bowl I.

Price tag: $12.

Stover’s Stram-coached Chiefs got there by beating quarterback Jack Kemp’s Buffalo Bills in the AFL title game, but they lost 35-10 to quarterback Bart Starr’s and coach Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Stover had no clue then what the game would become.

"It’s unreal," he said, amazed at the pageantry of today’s Super Bowls.

"Our halftime was Grambling’s band came up there. … It’s gotten to be a lot of foofoo and a lot of flowers. I mean, a lot of hype. Some of those games just aren’t what they’re cracked up to be — although some of them are pretty damn good games."

Stover went on to earn a master’s degree in geology, then settled into Lafayette, first while working for Superior Oil Company and now as an independent geologist.

Talent on all sides

Smokey Stover isn’t the only grandparent who passed some athleticism down to Hunter.

"(It) poured into him from both sides," Smokey Jr. said.

Hunter’s maternal grandfather, Billy Barrett, now in his late 80s, was a pro baseball player from 1949-57.

The centerfielder played for several minor-leagues teams — including the Lafayette Bulls, Thibodaux Giants and New Iberia Pelicans of Louisiana’s old Evangeline League, which existed from 1934 until 1957 with a break for World War II.

Playing for a time in the Milwaukee Braves organization, he made it as high as the AA Southern Association’s Atlanta Crackers in 1953.

Kick through the odds

Hunter arrived at UL from Notre Dame High in 2010 as a linebacker and kicker.

He wound up just a kicker, however, after needing multiple ACL surgeries on his left knee as a true freshman.

The first was because he tore the ligament shortly before the Cajuns’ season opener that year.

Later, according to his father, it was because of undiagnosed post-surgery MRSA staph infection in the joint that contributed to his weight dropping from 215 pounds to 180.

When UL head coach Mark Hudspeth replaced Rickey Bustle after the end of the 2010 season, Stover’s linebacker days were done.

But he kept on kicking, despite the fact his knee only retained about 80 percent of its strength.

"Hud comes in, and Hud doesn’t know him from Adam," Smokey said, "and he barely makes the conditioning test the last day of practice."

Making matters worse, Hunter tore the ACL in his right knee eight games into his redshirt season on a kickoff at Western Kentucky.

This season, for the first time, Hunter is the full-time field goal kicker (10-of-10 from inside 40 yards) and kicks PATs, too, (31-of-34).

He seems to have left his injuries far behind him, especially when he races downfield to help make as many tackles as he can after a kick.

"He kicks off, I just watch him," Smokey said.

"He figured (after the knee injuries) if he wanted to get his licks in, he had to go down and make tackles.

"We’re real proud of him," Smokey added. "Our whole family is real proud of Hunter, for him being injured and still able to play like he does."

Family pride first

Like his grandfather, Hunter often has a special shirt on under his UL jersey.

Every time he kicks, he wears a Kansas City Chiefs T-shirt given to him by his grandmother and worn in NFL games by his grandfather.

"My Grandpa wrote a little inscription on it, and I’ve actually worn it under my pads for every game in college," he said. "It’s pretty cool. … My ‘good-luck’ shirt. I have to wash it myself. I don’t let the trainers wash it."

Smokey still has his old cleats, and a framed jersey from his playing days.

The alligator shoes he wore to the first Super Bowl now belong to Smokey Jr., who wears them when testifying in court as an expert witness.

Hunter got the prized shirt.

The old shirt may be in tatters, Smokey said, but each week Hunter pulls up his jersey to show his family the T-shirt is there.

It’s a way of communicating without having to say much.

So it goes for this school-split family that really doesn’t feud at all.

In Hunter’s first three games against ULM, UL won.

"He just smiles at me and gives me that kind-of grin — ‘We beat you, huh?’" Smokey said. "He didn’t try to rub it in or anything — and I try to respect him when it’s the other way around."

When the Warhawks beat the Cajuns last year, nothing, really, was said from grandfather to grandson.

"He’s too much of a class act to do that," Hunter said. "He’s 100-percent supportive of me, and that’s why I love him so much. He’s just a great guy. I can’t really appreciate enough how much he does for me. He’s awesome."