As the ball tumbled over the fence and onto the adjacent concrete, Brad Craddock wheeled around, frustrated at the familiar result of yet another practice field goal. He unbuckled his chin strap, muttering angrily to himself all the while.
One year into his American college football experience, the Australian sophomore demands more of himself now, and fans certainly will, too. Craddock arrived at Maryland last year with little knowledge of the country, its culture or the fervor surrounding the sport. He was a punter then, almost exclusively, and struggled to learn the intricacies of place kicking. A shaky freshman season, with a 62.5 percent success rate on field goals and two missed extra points in 25 attempts, showed that Craddock was still a work in progress.
Flash to Monday evening, beneath the practice field lights, the sun setting and clock winding down on Maryland’s first preseason practice. Craddock stuck his extra point, straight down the middle. The offense shuttled back, lining up on the left hash mark for a 28-yard attempt. Greg Parcher snapped and Michael Tart held. Craddock drilled this one too, a no-doubter through the uprights and over the fence, nearly clanging off the hydraulic metal lift used for filming.
Then things got shaky. Craddock went wide left on a 35-yarder, two yards longer than the potential game-winner that clanged off the upright as time expired against North Carolina State last season. There is no doubting Craddock’s leg, not after becoming one of just three Terrapins to hit two 45-yarders in a game over the past 12 years. But his problem was never strength — it was accuracy. Craddock’s mechanics were unpredictable. His head placement was erratic, his hips over-rotating. Sometimes his left arm swung with his leg, harmonized in perfect sync. Other times it lagged behind, dead weight rather than a propeller.
“I guess it was more that I didn’t really know,” Craddock said Monday, seated in the front row of an auditorium of reporters and players for Maryland’s media day. “I came in as a punter, then I got swapped to kicker I hadn’t really done much. I did it as best as I could.”
If nothing else, Craddock is sincere in his words. He’s honest about his struggles but confident enough to know things can get better. As last season wore on, Craddock uncovered the source of his short-yardage struggles. Once benched for the more reliable Brendan Magistro on extra points, Craddock hit all five of them in the finale against North Carolina, Terps fans holding their breath each time, and a 27-yard field goal.
Maryland learned its kicking lesson last season. In addition to the North Carolina State debacle, Craddock missed a 35-yarder in a three-point loss to Boston College, a chip shot in the nail-biting opener against William & Mary and at one point had misses in five straight games. Over the final three games, Craddock made all eight extra point tries and both field goal attempts.
“There’s habits in every kicking technique that sort of creep back in if you don’t stay on top of them,” Craddock said. “For me, it’s watching that film, making sure that things I want to be doing I’m doing, and things I know I have tendencies doing, they don’t keep creeping back into my technique. I’ll definitely be working throughout camp and until I finish playing, I guess. There’s always stuff to work on.”
Behind Craddock, the options are somewhat limited. Magistro also struggled Monday, missing from 35 and 49 yards but hitting his extra point and 28-yard attempt. Before practice officially began, Magistro took some warmup kicks on the far end, and missed badly wide left most times.
Incoming freshman Adam Greene, the Maryland high school career field goals leader, has comparable leg strength to Craddock, but would the Terps endure another season with another true freshman? Odds are Craddock gets the early nod, because even after Monday, he’s still the roster’s most experienced kicker, and Coach Randy Edsall has faith in Craddock’s offseason work.
“Brad started off real good then all of a sudden he got in a little bit of a rut,” Edsall said after practice. “They have legs, they have the ability, now it’s just a matter of focus and concentration. Same swing, doing the same thing all the time. Right now, Brad’s the guy. We’ll continue to kick them quite a bit. We’ll chart it all. However it plays out, based on the numbers, who you get a good feel for from a confidence standpoint. It’s just consistency.”
Craddock eventually settled on the sideline between two practice fields with his teammates, watching Magistro and Greene take their attempts. He thought about his technique and what just went wrong. He hopes his sophomore season will go better, that he has no moments like Oct. 20, 2012, when he gripped his face mask on the Byrd Stadium turf as the Wolfpack stormed the field and celebrated.
“Just because my technique’s getting better wont mean I’m perfect,” Craddock said Monday. “But it’s going to help, that’s for sure.” Here he paused and nodded, accepting the conclusion. “We’ll get there,” he said.
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