Football: UL camp - Linden, ex-Sooners kicker Pfau fight for top job
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 5, 2018
It’s a position as important as any, and perhaps more so than most.
“Heck,” first-year UL coach Billy Napier said, “it’s just as critical — you know, it’s in the same conversation — as quarterback, in my opinion, just in terms of the ability to impact the game.”
But here’s the kicker:
When Napier and the Ragin’ Cajuns opened preseason camp Friday, they had no idea who will be handling field goals, PATs or kcikoffs during a 2018 season that opens in less than a month.
The man most figured would handle all of the kicking chores, senior Stevie Artigue, tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the offseason and underwent reconstructive knee surgery as a result.
That left just one kicker with experience as a Cajun on the roster: Calvin Linden, a walk-on who appeared in four games last season.
Napier, whose Cajuns open Sept. 1 against Grambling, liked what he saw from Linden during spring practice. But he nevertheless has added two more walks-ons to UL’s 110-man camp roster.
And the newcomers aren’t just around for depth purposes. Instead, the starting job is very much up for grabs.
“We have a couple of guys that are competing their tails off for that spot,” special teams coordinator Matt Powledge said.
One of the additions, Kenneth Almendares, is a true freshman from Brazoswood High in Clute, Texas.
The other is a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, Kyle Pfau, who evidently has positioned himself for a run at claiming the No. 1 job.
“The Almendares kid … has talent,” Napier said, “and he’s gonna be in the competition as well.”
“It will be beneficial for us as a team,” Powledge added with reference to Almendares’ presence, “because of that competition at that spot.”
UL's Calvin Linden, in contention to start this season, kicks off against UL Monroe last year. (Photo: Brad Kemp/RaginCajuns.com)
It’s Pfau, however, who comes in to battle Linden with some big-name schools in his background.
A product of Klein High in Spring, Texas, he spurned scholarship offers from NCAA Division I programs reportedly including Southern Mississippi and went to LSU as a walk-on instead.
After a year in Baton Rouge with no action, Pfau tweeted in August of 2015 that “leaving LSU was the hardest thing I've ever had to do” but that he was headed instead to Oklahoma.
The Sooners walk-on, however, didn’t see much action at OU either.
He played in two games in 2016, kicking off once against Kansas and making an onside kick against Houston, and in just one last year, when he had a kickoff against UTEP.
Buried behind second-team All-Big 12 kicker Austin Seibert, who still is around in Norman, Pfau decided this year that it was time for one more move.
He picked UL, hoping to finally get his shot at a full-time job.
POWER 5 STOPS
Even though he didn’t play much, or at all, at the two Power 5 programs, the experience gained watching and learning Oklahoma and LSU could pay dividends in that quest at UL.
“Kyle’s a guy who has been exposed to winning football and understands what it takes,” Napier said.
Jobs, however, aren’t won on resumes alone.
“It’s an open competition, and we expect those guys to compete,” Powledge said when asked if having just one season of eligibility could work to Pfau’s advantage.
“It’ll be based off their performance — practice, scrimmage, camp. And at the end of the day, the best man will start.
“It doesn’t matter to us if you started 12 games at Oklahoma or if you started 12 games here last year,” Powledge added. “I mean, it is open competition for one spot.”
Or maybe two.
“Ultimately you might see something where one guy wins the kickoff job, one guy wins the field goal job,” Powledge added. “That could be a chance there too. But, yes, it will be a battle.”
PFAU VS. LINDEN
Powledge — who was UL Monroe’s special teams coordinator in 2016 and ’17, and now doubles as UL’s outside linebackers coach too — said Linden and Pfau are “similar from a leg-strength standpoint.”
“Consistency and accuracy — that will be a large part of the evaluation process, as far as fall camp goes,” he said.
Pfau, Powledge added, “had a great summer” with the Cajuns.
Napier said the same of Linden, whom he knows a bit better because of their time together earlier in the year.
“Certainly Calvin Linden is a guy who had a great spring. He’s had a great summer,” the Cajuns head coach said. “He’s got a good look in his eye.”
Linden — a product of Louisiana prep powerhouse John Curtis Christian School, where he also played tight end and was a member state-championships in 2013 and ’14 – kicked off 18 times for the Cajuns last season.
He missed his only field-goal attempt, a 39-yarder in overtime of a 56-50 loss to ULM, but went 5-for-7 on PATs in relief of Artigue.
“Calvin,” Powledge said, “has definitely impressed us at that spot.”
In fact, Linden might even have been the mix for playing time this season had Artigue — a preseason first-team All-Sun Belt Conference in 2017 — not gotten injured.
It’s not clear whether UL decided to add Pfau before or after Artigue’s misfortune.
“To be honest,” Powledge said last Thursday, “Stevie would be in a competition as well going into this fall camp had he still been here.
“But obviously the loss of him, being a former all-conference player, definitely (is an) impact.”
Whether Artigue takes a medical redshirt this year and returns in 2019 remains to be seen.
Last month, Napier said — despite the ACL reconstruction — that there was “outside hope” the Lafayette High product could return late this season.
Asked then about him playing next year for UL, Napier said “that’s a bridge we’ll cross down the road.”
Last week, however, Powledge sounded much more optimistic about Artigue playing for the Cajuns next season.
“He’ll have that year left when he finishes (rehab),” Powledge said when asked what he’d have to say to Artigue to convince him to stay. “I’m not sure if he’ll go anywhere. He’s from Lafayette, so …”
That, though, is an issue to be resolved later.
The task at hand is determining whose foot will kick for UL this year, and even with Artigue out Cajun coaches seem satisfied with their options.
“We’ve added players to the roster,” Napier said, “to create competition and try to improve our team.”
Calvin Linden (38), shown here kicking as a backup against UL Monroe last season, has competition for the starting job this season. (Photo: Brad Kemp/RaginCajuns.com)