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Football: What to know about Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns special teams in 2021 after an eventful 2020

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 23, 2021

UL special teams delivered some memorable moments in 2020.

Chris Smith returned a kickoff for a touchdown and Eric Garror returned a punt for a TD in an upset win at Iowa State; Smith brought a kickoff back 100 yards for a TD and Rhys Byrns delivered a 74-yard punt that flipped the field late in a tight win at UAB.

And it’s hard to forget Nate Snyder beating Georgia Southern with a 53-yard field goal as time expired at Cajun Field.

Fortunately for the Ragin’ Cajuns, the specialty units from a 10-1 team – much like UL’s offense and defense – are full of returnees in 2021.    

Here’s to what to know about the specialists for the Cajuns, who started spring practice last week and play their spring game April 22:

Cajuns punter, kickers remain

Byrns, a 2020 second team All-Sun Belt Conference pick behind Troy’s Jack Martin, should go unchallenged returning for his fourth season as UL’s starting punter.

Snapper Paul Boudreaux and holder Dalen Cambre also remain.

The interesting battle will be between kickers Snyder and Kenneth Almendares.

Even after beating Georgia Southern, Snyder – a graduate transfer who handled only kickoffs for Indiana – lost his starting job to Almendares around mid-season due to inconsistency on field goals.

He went 5-for-10. Almendares finished 5-for-5.

But Snyder did keep his job as UL’s kickoff specialist after losing placekicking duties to Almendares, who handled kickoffs in 2019.

Sticking around:Why UL coach Billy Napier turns down SEC jobs, stays in Lafayette

Transfer:How UL signee Nijel McGriff went from one FBS offer to wanted recruit

UL return men back, too

Smith, UL’s No. 3 running back last season, and Garror, a starting cornerback, both are back. So are receiver Dontae Fleming and cornerback Trey Amos, the only Cajuns besides Garror to return a punt last season.

With top two running backs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas both going pro, the Cajuns do a need an alternate kick return option besides Smith.

Freshman signee Jalen Clark, who played quarterback at his Alabama high school but was recruited as a defensive back, could figure into UL’s return game, but he’s not enrolled.

Tall and proud:UL commit Clark at home wherever he is

Katrina, 15 years later:Cajuns commit Clark runs down memories of a distant past

Percy Butler won’t stop

Percy Butler, a two-year fulltime starter at safety, has earned a reputation for being one of the top gunners in the Sun Belt.

He’s all for playing on Byrns’ punt team again.

“I never get tired of special teams,” Butler said last week. “That’s what got me on the field.”

UL has new special teams coaches

The Cajuns will have their third special teams coordinator in three seasons.

Matt Powledge, now in his second season as Baylor’s special teams coordinator, had the job in 2018 and ’19. Robby Discher did it last season, then left  become a special teams analyst at Georgia.

With Discher gone,  coach Billy Napier hired Chris Couch, Tulane’s special teams analyst and recruiting the coordinator the past five seasons.

“I think the special teams success Tulane has had over the last four or five years is well-documented,” Napier said, “and certainly Chris has contributed to that.

“We’re excited about his leadership in that role.”

Couch is being assisted by new graduate assistant Max Arnold, a former special teams player at Tennessee who was a defensive analyst the past two seasons at UAB, and Jordan Frazier.

A UL staffer in various positions from 2014-18 including special teams quality control coach under Napier and ex-UL coach Mark Hudspeth, Frazier returns as an intern after working in 2019-20 as director of football operations at Austin Peay.