Inside his dormitory room, along a narrow corridor, Maryland place kicker Brad Craddock practices his steps. Three back and two across, each pace marked off by tape. Craddock reapplies constantly. His shuffling rips the adhesive.
The rising sophomore’s inaugural season in College Park was his first year ever playing American football, after moving across the Pacific Ocean and transitioning from Australian rules football to the stateside version. When incumbent starter Nick Ferrara suffered what turned into a season-ending hip injury during the preseason, Craddock leapt into the starting role, entertaining accent and all. But last fall was still very much an adjustment period, no matter how at ease he seemed.
Raw in technique with a powerful leg, Craddock’s shortcomings became apparent throughout the season. He famously banged a 33-yard game-winner off the left upright against North Carolina State and was benched against Boston College in favor of walk-on Brendan Magistro. Craddock finished the season 23 for 25 on extra points and 10 of 16 on field-goal attempts.
At least he was consistently inconsistent across various distances – Craddock went 3 for 5 from 20-29 yards, 30-39 yards and 40-49 yards. Magistro, in limited late-season opportunities, made a 28-yard field goal versus the Eagles and hit all three of his point-after attempts.
The last player to leave the field following Saturday’s practice, Craddock appeared every bit a changed teenager after a trial-and-error freshman season. He has set personal accuracy goals for the spring, which become tougher as summer approaches. This week, he aimed to go 10 for 10 inside 30 yards, 9 of 10 from 30 to 40 and 8 of 10 from 40 and beyond. His past week’s goals? Make every field goal inside 50 yards, then make 9 of 10 outside 50. Craddock says he’s aiming for consistency inside 45 yards.
“I’ve got the leg,” he said. “I can crush the ball from around there. It’s really when it gets to outside that 50 range that it changes a bit. If I get my technique right, everything should be good inside that. I won’t accept anything less than that.”
Craddock also began utilizing film this offseason, reviewing his kicks at night before practicing the steps along that hallway. He has changed his entire stance and now focuses on perfecting his weight transfer. During Tuesday’s practice, he replicated the North Carolina State nightmare by twice hitting the left post inside Byrd Stadium. On Thursday, Craddock didn’t miss.
“I know what everyone expects of me now,” he said. “I know what I should be doing, whereas last year, I kind of got thrown into it. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. I had to work a lot harder than I thought I had to work. Now, I know exactly what I want to do, exactly what I need to do.”
Perhaps most importantly, the technique has become second nature to Craddock, whereas last fall he still struggled to replicate successful kicks across several attempts. As soon as he kicks the ball now, Craddock says, he knows if it’s good.
“Last year, I would look up and go,” Craddock said, taking a deep break and exhaling in relief, “good. Or not good. Unless I really miskicked it last year, I knew. Now, I know where every part of my body should be.”