UL kicker Artigue: 'The guy right now is crushing the ball'

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

To open a week that closes with UL kicking off the 2017 season against Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday night at Cajun Field, UL coach Mark Hudspeth made it quite clear.

Ragin' Cajuns kicker Stevie Artigue kicks off in UL's 2016 season-opener against Boise State. The Cajuns open their 2017 season Saturday night against Southeastern Louisiana.

He’s rather happy with his kicker.

“Stevie Artigue had the best (preseason) camp of probably any player on the team,” Hudspeth said. “The guy right now is crushing the ball.”

Extra emphasis on “crushing.”  

“If it calls for it,” Hudspeth said, “I wouldn’t have any hesitation on giving him a long field goal.

“How long? Don’t know. But I would give him a pretty long one. The guy is crushing the ball right now with great confidence.”

On multiple days this month, Hudspeth has raved about Artigue — whose college long is a 49-yarder at Georgia State in 2015 — nailing 50-plus-yarders in camp.

All this from a coach who did not exactly have a ton of confidence in his field goal and PAT kicking units early last season, when Artigue missed five of his first 15 field goal attempts.

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At one point, after Artigue missed both of his PATs in a September win over South Alabama, Hudspeth trotted out then-backup kicker Dylan Scheurich.

Afterward, Hudspeth said “the placekicking job is under evaluation.”

But Artigue went on to make his next 25 PATs in a row, finishing the season 29-of-31.

He also closed the year with nine straight made field goals, finishing 19-for-24 and tying ex-Chicago Bears kicker John Roveto for the second-most made field goals in a single season in UL history.

Now Artigue, a junior from Lafayette High, goes into 2017 as the first-team kicker on the preseason All-Sun Belt Conference team, and he’s on the national watch list for the Lou Groza Award that recognizes the country’s top college kicker.

Moreover, his confidence really is sky-high.

More:Cajuns kicker named to Lou Groza Award watch list

As last season progressed, and his late-year success has carried into 2017, Artigue said earlier this month, “I came into my own world when it came to kicking, and just feel like I can’t miss.”

“It’s a great feeling,” he said.

What made the difference?

Part of it was physical.

“I think my leg got a lot stronger,” Artigue said, “and I got a lot more consistent.”

Mostly, though, it was a mental thing.

Nowadays, said Artigue, who once connected on a 55-yarder in high school, “I can bring myself into my own world when I’m kicking.”

“It’s ‘the zone,’ I guess,” he said.

Artigue also changed holders late last season, turning to then-Cajuns punter Stevie Coutts after Sterling Miller was suspended.

Now his holder is Sam Geraci, UL’s graduate-transfer punter from Cincinnati who previously also handled that duty for the American Athletic Conference’s Bearcats.

More:With Geraci holding, Artigue having his kicks in camp

Working with Geraci, Hudspeth said, also has helped Artigue’s confidence this month.

So too has his coming to the realizing that college kicking and high school kicking are two different beasts.

He’s not just kicking for the Lions anymore.

“It’s completely different, I’ll tell you the truth,” Artigue said of the two levels. “But once you get the hold of it, it’s a lot better, a lot more fun, a lot more easy. It’s cool.”

Beyond holders, and better strength and a better understanding of his environment, though, what’s really worked wonders for Artigue is simple repetition.

“It’s just practice,” he said.

“The more you practice the better you’re gonna feel about it, and you’re just gonna feel, like, unstoppable, almost.”

When he kicks now, Artigue — who was 8-of-15 on field goals and 26-for-28 on PATs as a wide-eyed true freshman in 2015 — has blinders on.

Related:Artigue, Dillon earn All-SBC honors

“All I see is the three yards in front of me,” he said, “and where the ball is gonna be.”

The crowd?

Sorry, folks, he’s tuning you out. Nothing personal, though.

“It’s hard to explain it,” Artigue said, “but I just bring myself into my own world.

“I take a deep breath. I tell myself to, ‘Stay chill.’ And when I’m back there I’m just focused and I’m ready.

“I’m not thinking about kicking,” he said. “I’m just letting my muscle memory take over.”

Practice, practice, practice.

“I’d say at least 90 percent of it is mental,” Artigue said. “Because if your mind’s not in it, your body’s not in it.”

Whether it’s mind, body or soul, Hudspeth is certain Artigue is all-in as the Cajuns prepare to embark on a schedule that also includes non-conference visits to Tulsa on Sept. 9 and Texas A&M on Sept. 16 and a Sun Belt-opener against UL Monroe on Sept. 23 at Cajun Field.

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“The guy’s always in the weight room, always taking care of his body,” Hudspeth said of the well-built Artigue, who is listed at 175 pounds and a seemingly generous 5-foot-10. “He understands the importance of taking care of his body.

“Man, that guy has matured. … He works, probably as hard or harder than anybody on this football team.

“To me, he sort of looks like an outside linebacker that kicks,” Hudspeth said. “He’s a rocked-up guy. He takes football seriously, and he’s got a strong leg.”

That has the coach who challenged Artigue last season standing strongly in his corner these days.

“He ended up phenomenal the last two-thirds of the season — not only in field goals, but kickoffs — with his accuracy,” said Hudspeth, who doubles as UL’s special teams coach. “I think he is primed to have an outstanding season.”

No wonder the Cajuns coach feels as good as his kicker seemingly does.

“That always gives you a lot of confidence,” Hudspeth said, “when you have an outstanding kicker.”

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