It was like the buttock scene in Forrest Gump.
There was no bullet that jumped up and bit Stephen Pyle, but you could have fooled the Cal Poly kicker.
In Saturday’s 44-18 loss at South Dakota State, Pyle tweaked his hip attempting a PAT that clanged off the left upright, but he stayed in the game initially.
“The next kickoff, it literally felt like someone threw a rock or a ball at me,” Pyle said. “If you watch the film, you can see me look back. I thought someone shot me. I felt a pop right there. “When I went to warm up, I felt like I had nothing, no power behind it.”
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Now, during a bye week for the Mustangs (0-2), Pyle is resting his kicking leg and awaiting further evaluation of his right hip joint.
The first-year starter and former Cal Poly men’s soccer player is hoping to return to the lineup for the Mustangs’ home opener against Portland State (1-1) on Sept. 20.
Junior cornerback Chris Fletcher, a starter who injured his knee late in the loss, did not participate in the team portion of practice Tuesday but ran through solo drills and conditioning and could make a full return by the end of the week, Walsh said.
Pyle won’t know for sure the severity of the damage until visiting a specialist later this week to help pinpoint the exact injury, be it a hip flexor or adductor injury.
After Tuesday’s practice, Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said he is planning to rest Pyle this week and see how the kicker feels by Tuesday or Wednesday next week before making an official decision.
“Optimistically, I should be back,” Pyle said. “I moved from the bicycle to the elliptical machine. Trainers are thinking I should be back for Portland State, but come next week’s time and I’m not ready, I’m not going to push it.”
If Pyle is unable to play, redshirt freshman Zach Schottenfeld, a recent transfer from Utah, and Ben Adam, a walk-on freshman from St. Joseph High, will compete for placekicking duties, and redshirt freshman James Foug would handle kickoffs, Walsh said.
Though he was unable follow through with his right foot Saturday, Pyle did offer to kick PATs left-footed to help the team, which was in dire straits.
Late last week, an injury to backup cornerback and special teams starter Dylan Mohamed contributed to Walsh’s decision to bring additional replacements for him in lieu of an extra kicker on the 58-man travel roster.
Pyle was it.
Walsh said it was the first time in his career he hadn’t traveled with at least two kickers.
“Lesson learned for me probably,” Walsh said. “I’m not going to take one kicker again.”
As it turned out, Pyle’s left foot was not needed for placekicking against the Jackrabbits, and senior slotback Chris Nicholls averaged a respectable 36.5 yards on four punts filling in for Pyle.
“I thought he did more than adequately,” Walsh said, “and he also poses a threat back there that he can do something else with the ball.”
As for kickoffs, Nicholls was all set to handle those, too, before sophomore slotback Elias Stokes volunteered for the job on the sideline. Stokes, a former Tribune County Player of the Year, used to punt at Paso Robles High, but he had never kicked off in a game before.
After talking his way onto the field, Stokes’s two kickoffs resulted in South Dakota State drives starting at the Jackrabbits’ own 28- and 36-yard line.
And the episode could lead to more opportunities for Stokes to play.
“His attitude on the sideline during the whole course of the game,” Walsh said, “and especially at that moment when we needed to find a kicker to kick the ball off shows us his want to get on the field. So, he’s getting some turns this week at slot to see if he can get on the field. There’s no guarantees, but let’s see how he does as the week progresses.
“And he did a great job considering the moment. Maybe he’s one of those guys that’s a gamer, too. He always was in high school.”