New Cajuns punter Byrns facing no competition in camp

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

It’s fair to say Rhys Byrns is winning the battle to be UL’s No. 1 punter this season.

Aussie Rhys Byrns is the No. 1 and only punter in Cajuns camp.

That’s in large part because Byrns, a true freshman from Australia, has no competition.

“He’s actually the only punter that we have in training camp,” UL coach Billy Napier said earlier this week.

“He’s a unique athlete, man. The guy’s just got a natural leg, and he’s got a good skill set relative to the different things that he can do – not only kicking it with a traditional spiral, but also the Aussie kick.

“So,” Napier added, “he’s been a great addition to our roster, and he’s certainly a guy that I think can play winning football.”

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Napier isn’t the only Ragin’ Cajuns coach who’s been impressed by the athleticism of Byrns, who is on scholarship.

“Rhys definitely has stood out this summer,” special teams coordinator Matt Powledge said the day before preseason camp opened earlier this month.

“He’s done an absolute wonderful job. In terms of work ethic, he’s got great work ethic,” Powledge added. “But as far as just the talent that he has, the control he has with the ball is very, very good.”

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Others on UL’s roster are capable of punting, if need be.

And if the Cajuns did, for some reason, have to turn to a backup punter when UL’s roster is trimmed for Sun Belt Conference road games, Napier said, “one of the kickers who travels with us would be able to get us out of a game.”

“But, for the most part, that is not going to be an issue until we get into a situation where we’ve to limit our roster to 70,” Napier added.

Returnee Calvin Linden, a backup last season, and Kyle Pfau, a graduate transfer who was a backup at Oklahoma, currently are competing for UL’s No. 1 kicking job.

Byrns, from Melbourne, will become the third punter from Australia to wear a Cajun uniform in recent years, joining Steven Coutts and Daniel Cadona.

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He was initially recruited by the staff of former UL head coach Mark Hudspeth, and the Cajuns decided to honor their offer to him.

“Obviously you never know until you run him out there and let him punt when it really counts,” Napier said, “but the first couple days (of preseason camp) he showed he was very capable and we made a good decision signing him.”


He didn’t play in last Saturday night's first scrimmage of camp.

But before recently hurting his back, true freshman Sammy Ochoa — a defensive lineman from Lake Travis High in Texas — apparently made a rather favorable impression on Cajun coaches.

“He’s a guy who’s elevated himself relatively quickly,” Napier said, who added before the injury that Ochoa was joining a battle for a backup job on the line.

The medical setback, Napier suggested early in the week, isn’t a major one, and Ochoa remains a candidate to play for UL as a true freshman.

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The 6-foot-1, 295-pound Lone Star State product started camp with some lofty expectations from UL’s new defensive coordinator hanging overhead. Ron Roberts said Ochoa was going in “with a little more maturity factor in there.”

“And (from) a physical standpoint — he’s got everything,” Roberts added. “But he has a different maturity about him on learning things and knowing what to do and taking care of business on a daily basis.”

A former Virginia commit who reportedly had his offer from the ACC’s Cavaliers pulled late coming out of Lake Travis in 2017, Ochoa wound up spending last season at the Naval Academy Preparatory School – which doesn’t count against his NCAA eligibility.

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Ochoa is one of five blueshirts the Cajuns have, meaning — among other things — they didn’t make an official visit, they didn’t go on scholarship until preseason camp opened and their scholarship will count on the Cajuns’ next 25-man recruiting class (not the last).

But they are eligible to play this year.

UL’s other blueshirts this season: Eric Garror, a cornerback from Mobile, Alabama; Carencro High linebacker Keon-Jean Batiste; juco-transfers Jamal Bell and Cameron Solomon, who were teammates at Tyler (Texas) Junior College.

Garror has received much praise since camp opened, and Napier has suggested Bell has shown he perhaps can help right away, too.

Another recruit, defensive lineman Shomari Hayes of Mounain Pointe High in Arizona, will join UL as a grayshirt in January and also count toward the next Cajun signing class.

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Napier met with media members last Monday afternoon.

But he hasn’t met with reporters since Monday night’s practice or Tuesday night’s either, and he didn’t plan to make himself available for comment after Wednesday night’s practice.

The Cajuns are off Thursday. Napier doesn’t plan to address the press again until Friday afternoon.

COLUMN:Napier’s first media day — polite, restricted