As the threatening storm clouds hung over M&T Bank Stadium, ready to open and drench the field, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall approached his sophomore kicker and asked for the scouting report. Brad Craddock had never kicked in the rain before, nor inside an NFL stadium. Still, he knew exactly what to expect.
Starting this February and continuing through the summer, Craddock sought guidance from former Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover. They reformed his stance and readjusted his weight, so Craddock began laying tape onto his bedroom floor for practice. He took his steps, three back and two across, ensuring everything was just perfect. He set goals for himself: Make everything inside 30 yards, 90 percent of kicks between 30 and 40, then 80 percent beyond 40. Ever since immigrating from Australia and picking up American football, Craddock always possessed the leg strength. The problem seemed to rest upstairs.
So on Saturday afternoon, after Craddock progressed through his pregame routine, Edsall asked him about the wind. Craddock spoke to Stover earlier that week and learned a dirty little secret about the Baltimore stadium: Whichever way the flags wave, do the opposite. The goal post netting contains two holes, which allow the wind to gust through. “You’ll be kicking with the wind, but it’ll hold the ball up,” Craddock said afterward. “Very different than any stadium I’ve kicked in before.”
Craddock told Edsall he felt more comfortable kicking when Maryland’s offense drove to the right of its bench, maybe 50 yards or so that way and 47 to 48 the other way. But as he stepped beneath a steady drizzle and lined up for a 50-yarder, Craddock struck it true and straight. It cleared the crossbar with room to spare. “I think that thing would’ve been good from about 60,” said Edsall, who for the second straight week gave Craddock the special teams game ball.
Some kickers actually prefer kicking in a light rain. The wetness, they say, adds some weight to the football.
“I don’t know,” Craddock said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever kicked in rain before. The ball felt heavy to me, especially the kickoff after the extra point there. Felt like hitting a brick. I don’t know, maybe if it’s a little bit maybe. For me, I’d much rather it be dry as anything.”
Four games into his second season, adjusted to the college lifestyle and assimilated into American culture, Craddock has markedly improved his kicking. Plagued by inaccuracy issues in 2012, benched at one stage on extra points, Craddock has missed two kicks this season: a 50-yarder against Connecticut and a PAT in the opener versus Florida International. Last season, such missteps might have threatened Craddock’s playing time. Now, they seem mere anomalies.
He’s 17 for 18 on extra points and 10 for 11 on field goals, perfect from under 50 yards. Those 10 made field goals lead the nation.
“You feel more confident in your technique,” Craddock said. “Last year I wasn’t too sure in what I was doing. If eel more confident in the team, gotten to know them over the last year, everything all in one, getting used to the climate, different country, all of that helps as well. It’s getting better. I think it gets better ever week. You miss a kick, you have to go out and make the next one next time.”
With his parents in attendance, on a seven-week vacation to the United States, Craddock delivered his most impressive game at Maryland. He hit field goals from 36, 30 and 50 yards, helping buttress a Terps offense that struggled to find the end zone.
Craddock also nailed two touchbacks, increasing his season total to eight, three more than what he mustered all of last season.
“I’ve gotten more confident as it goes on, I guess,” he said. “It’s feeling good at the moment. Just have to work on that, I guess.”