Brad Craddock estimates the first time he started kicking field goals was a year and a week ago - less than a month before his first collegiate appearance against William & Mary (he missed a 25-yard field goal and made his only extra point attempt).
From Adelaide, Australia, Craddock grew up with Aussie Rules Football, a game more similar to rugby but heavily focused on kicking (and physicality). Recruited to Maryland as a punter, he was called into duty as a true freshman when starting kicker Nick Ferrara went down with a season-ending injury.
Craddock's first season as a kicker had its ups and downs. He made ten of his 16 field goal attempts (with a long of 52) and 23 of his 25 extra point attempts, but his struggles during a two-week stretch were notable. Craddock missed a 33-yard field goal with two seconds left that would have sealed a Terrapin victory against North Carolina State (after missing an extra point attempt earlier), and missed a 35-yard field goal in a three-point loss against Boston College the next week.
This summer, Craddock worked with former Ravens kicker Matt Stover, who helped the young kicker with both the mental and physical aspects of the position.
"My technique's changed a lot," he said. "That's probably the biggest thing for me, just my hips, my legs, where everything's placed and where everything's pointing."
In terms of the mental aspect of the game, Craddock seems pretty far off from the "nervous wreck" stereotype of a kicker. Laid-back with long-ish hair and an Australian accent, he could easily be mistaken for a surfer, and his attitude towards missed kicks reflects that.
"No one's perfect," he said. "You're going to miss those kicks, that's going to happen. How I look at it now is how I react to my next kick. If I miss one and then I miss another one, then that's playing with your head, so you've got to make sure if you miss one, you've got to make the next one, you've got to make it count."
A big part in Craddock's development has been his familiarity with the position. Because he had never kicked consistently before last year, he was thrust into an important (and unfamiliar) role with a lot of pressure, and didn't have time to work on the fundamentals. This summer, he did, staying in Maryland instead of going home to Australia (he quipped "spending two days on a plane isn't really good for your legs).
"[It's] very different coming in from last year," he said. "I thought I was going to punt. Definitely different than then. I'm really enjoying it, it's been good being able to kick the last six months without really any worries about what's going on."
Craddock's biggest problem last year was on shorter kicks - of his six misses, four came from less than 40 yards out. During camp, Craddock has been very successful at a short distance, and expects that to continue into this season.
"For a kicker, your aiming is all in your steps before you kick the ball," he said. "So last year, my aiming was 'Oh there's the goals, this is sort of what I'm doing, give it a crack'. Definitely in that sense the shorter ones I feel a lot more comfortable. Whereas last year I was like 'Oooh it's short, I need to make this', now it's like 'good it's short'. It's a different outlook in your head."
Craddock reflected on the day when he was brought in and told he'd be switching away from punting (which he had done since he was five years old) and focusing instead on kicking. While at first it was hard for him to adjust to the new position, Craddock said he's happy with the change.
"It was kind of like I did all this work to get here for that and then I'm just going to be changed?," he said. "But looking back on it, I'm kind of glad about where I'm at. I really enjoy the kicking side of it and I've had a lot of fun doing this. Yeah, I miss punting, but I more miss the Australian Rules punting, like kicking to each other, running, taking marks and stuff like that. But I'm glad I get to put points on the board."
Craddock also joked around about the differences between Aussie Rules and American football - in Aussie Rules, everyone kicks and everyone tackles. When asked if he ever had the urge to get involved in the hitting during practice, however, he laughed.
"Seeing the size of them?" he said. "I'm pretty good. You miss that side of it, you miss not being able to contribute as much in a game, but that's the thing, that's my job. I've got to contribute the way I can. That's really my focus. I miss tackling, but you should watch me do the tackling drills. It's not pretty. So I'm good just staying behind, but you never know I might have to make another tackle on kick-off or something."