Southern Miss

Gulfport's Brauchle taking advantage of his chances at Southern Miss

 Stephen Brauchle, a former Gulfport Admiral, handles the kickoff and field goal duties for Southern Miss.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Stephen Brauchle, a former Gulfport Admiral, handles the kickoff and field goal duties for Southern Miss. SUN HERALD

HATTIESBURG -- Stephen Brauchle got in a good lick and had a bunch of good kicks last Saturday.

In the third quarter, the Southern Miss junior from Gulfport saw UTSA kick returner Brett Winnegan running down the sideline, so he headed toward him and leveled the return man for a big tackle on the UTSA 36-yard line.

"I don't mind getting my nose in there every once in a while," Brauchle said. "The guys got so pumped up on the sidelines."

Rightly so. Especially when the player who made the tackle is a kicker, one who booted four field goals -- from 25, 22, 20 and 39 yards -- and two extra points in the Golden Eagles' 32-10 victory over UTSA.

"I don't want to just kick it and stay back there," Brauchle said. "I'm a bigger guy, about 6-foot, 200-something pounds, so I'm not like an average size kicker. I've been coached on how to tackle. It's just fun. I'm part of the kickoff team."

Of course, it's his right leg that put him on the team and his right leg that earned him Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his play against UTSA.

"It's an awesome feeling to get that accomplishment," Brauchle said. "Our holder, Tyler Sarrazin, and Lance Schuffert played really good, too. I couldn't have done really well without the help of them.

"Lance is probably one of the better long snappers in the country, but you never hear about him. The snap is going to be there 100 percent of the time and that's very reassuring."

For the record, Brauchle has made 7 of 9 field goals and 9 of 10 extra points this season. And three tackles.

But it is his strong leg that won him recognition as a youth soccer player and on the football teams at Gulfport High School, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Miss.

"Playing soccer, I played goalkeeper growing up," Brauchle said. "You always have a goal kick. And a goal kick usually goes half the field. Whenever I was the goalkeeper it would go to the other goal. I'd get assists in soccer because we'd score goals off my goal kicks."

Brauchle's father, who played football at Tennessee, his uncles, his cousin -- former Mississippi State kicker Sean Brauchle -- and former Maryland kicker and Gulfport assistant coach Brad Rhodes all helped him fine-tune his art.

And then, eventually, the colleges started calling.

"It's been a long road," he said. "It's been a long journey."

Brauchle wanted to go to East Carolina, but the Pirates decided on another kicker, so Brauchle went to MGCCC instead.

After one year there, Brauchle was all set to transfer to Florida International, but the Golden Panthers fired their coach, so he headed to Louisiana-Lafayette and made 8 of 13 field goals and 52 of 54 extra points.

But Brauchle came back closer to home, walking on at Southern Miss in 2014, and is under the guidance of special teams coach John Wozniak. Last year, he redshirted due to transfer rules, and this season he has been kicking off and battling Parker Shaunfield for the place-kicking duties.

"At Lafayette, my first game was at Arkansas in front of about 78,000 people," he said. "At Gulf Coast, we had about 5,000 people there. So just kicking out there at Arkansas was unreal. I was really nervous. Couldn't handle my nerves.

"But from where I was there to where I am now, like with the Mississippi State game, I had no nerves. I was relaxed. I was calm. This is where I need to be. It's a pretty awesome feeling."

But it's still a journey for the exercise science major. Although he kicked six extra points against Austin Peay, one of his kickoffs went to the wrong side of the field, and Shaunfield began place-kicking for USM. But Shaunfield had a field goal attempt blocked by Marshall and hit only 2 of 5 field-goal attempts, and Brauchle got back into the lineup for the UTSA game.

He took advantage of the second chance, although USM head coach Todd Monken seeks even more improvement.

"I'm fired up he made four field goals but we've still got to elevate the ball," Monken said. "I'm happy for him. I'm not happy we had to kick four field goals. But I am happy that once we did kick them, they went through."

While none of Brauchle's kicks were from long range, he has no doubts that he can kick from farther out.

"I've always had a big leg," he said. "My best (in practice) is 63, 64 yards, that's pretty good. At any college, guys can make that. They don't tell you they can only make it one out of 10 times. It's the guys that do it consistently during the game is all that matters. That's where the mental part comes in big-time. You've got to trust your holder and know you're going to make it."

Southern Miss stands at 4-3 this season, 2-1 in Conference USA. The veterans on the team are soaking up the victories, but it's just par for the course for Brauchle.

"I've never been on a losing team," he said. "I played at Gulf Coast and we were really good. Louisiana-Lafayette went to the New Orleans Bowl and we won.

"It's good to have a little confidence about yourself, but at the same time be humble. It's a whirlwind, coach Monken talks about. We can be so much better. Take it one game at a time. It's always a good feeling when you're winning. It comes down to adversity in close games, can you pull them out? There were a lot of games last year that were real close and we could have won. Hopefully this year we can handle the adversity and come out with a win."

So far, so good to that. But when your kicker makes tackles and field goals, you're headed in the right direction.

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