As he walked up the stairs Oct. 22, 2012, Brad Craddock could hear his COMM107 classmates chatting. There was a test that day, but it was a tight-knit group. They were always talking.
The last time the section met, Craddock was a relatively unknown kicker on the Terrapins football team. But after the Australian’s 33-yard game-winning attempt against N.C. State careened off the left upright and spoiled the Terps’ homecoming comeback, Craddock became College Park’s persona non grata. “Everyone knew who I was,” Craddock said.
Two days later, he walked up to the classroom door. The chitchat stopped.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Craddock said. “I sit down, and the teacher didn’t know what to say. She just hands out the exams.”
About a year later, Craddock didn’t miss either of his attempts during the Terps’ homecoming game against Clemson. He didn’t miss his only field goal in 2014’s contest against Iowa, either. The reigning Lou Groza Award winner hopes to keep the streak going Saturday when the Terps host Wisconsin in this year’s homecoming game.
In three years, Craddock has transformed from a dubious rookie into the Terps’ leader.
Some might find it hard to believe when looking back at how his journey started. But it all began with The Miss.
“If that hadn’t happened,” Craddock said, “I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”
The young boy couldn’t get enough of kicking. When his father, Raymond, wasn’t around to return his volley, Craddock would line up at the family room in his parent’s Adelaide, Australia, home and boot a soft 6-inch McDonald’s Australian-rules football through the frame of his bedroom.
(Courtesy of the Craddock family)
And if Craddock couldn’t find a football, he’d grab a pair of rolled-up socks from his drawer and send them flying across the house.
“He was allowed to do it,” said his mother, Leonie. “The rule was he had to be straight on the door.”
As he got older, Craddock started playing competitive Australian-rules football. He’d record as many as 20 kicks per game, striking balls to his route-running teammates.
“Kick [the] ball end over end, running start,” Craddock said. “We never kick a spiral; there’s no point. Its not accurate.”
Yet after working on a project in his final year as a student at home detailing the differences between Australian-rules football and American football, Craddock longed to test his skills in the United States.
Several Australians had already made the transition to college football, so finding help wasn’t hard. The Craddocks found their son a coach named Cameron at OzPunt, and soon Craddock had compiled a highlight video of his punting skills.
After finishing school in December 2010, he spent his days working odd jobs for a local bus company, conducting tennis lessons and punting footballs.
Craddock needed money for his flight to America, though he didn’t plan on going on any recruiting visits. The Aussie was ready to board a plane to whichever school offered a scholarship first.
Former Terps coach Randy Edsall was one of the coaches to receive the highlight clip. During Edsall’s time at Connecticut, he’d coached an Australian punter, Adam Coles. So when Edsall received Craddock’s tape, he asked Coles for an opinion on his countryman.
Leonie and Raymond had just woken up one May 2012 morning when Craddock burst into their bedroom. With laptop in hand, he showed his parents the scholarship offer email from former special teams coach Andre Powell.
“I think I’m going to be a Terp,” Leonie recalled Craddock saying.
(Evan Berkowitz/The Diamondback)
To this day, Raymond isn’t sure what caused him to faint at the Subway on Route 1 in College Park. But he knows it rattled his son.
Raymond accompanied Brad for his first few days in College Park in summer 2012, walking around the campus and meeting the coaches.
Neither father nor son got off to a good start in the new country. In addition to his father’s health scare, Craddock contracted food poisoning and lost 15 pounds within his first week on the campus.
“I was sick as a dog,” Craddock said. “It was dreadful. The start was horrid.”
The tribulations weren’t over. Not even close. Former kicker Nick Ferrara hadn’t fully healed from his offseason hip surgery, so the Terps needed Craddock to learn how to kick field goals two weeks before the season’s first game.
Craddock struggled early — he missed his only attempt, a 25-yarder, in the Terps’ 7-6 season-opening win against William & Mary — but didn’t fret. After all, he had just started learning placekicking.
Early in the morning Oct. 21, 2012, Leonie and Raymond sat in front of their television watching their son play in the Terps’ homecoming game more than 10,000 miles away and 14.5 hours ahead. During Craddock’s childhood, the family spent hours playing games in that house. With Craddock’s sisters, Alanah and Jacqui, they’d play Monopoly, Squatter and card games such as 500.
“He loves being around people, really,” Leonie said. “People that he has attachment to. Family is very important to him.”
Since coming over from Australia, Craddock said his social circle hasn’t expanded much past his teammates. The Terps have become his “American family,” his mom said.
Back in Australia, the Craddocks had invited friends over for the Terps’ contest against N.C. State. Their friends had never watched American football before.
Trailing by two points and with the announced crowd of 40,217 hanging on his every move, quarterback Caleb Rowe, the third signal-caller used in the game, led the Terps into field-goal range.
With six seconds remaining, Craddock jogged onto the field.
“Our friend turned towards me and said, ‘Is this a good thing if Brad kicks for the game?’” Leonie said. “I turned to her and said, ‘Only if he gets it.’”
The freshman kicker approached the attempt the same way he had the first 12 attempts of his career and the two he made earlier in the game. He waited for the snap, took three steps and swung his right foot.
“When I hit the ball, I thought I crushed it, like, dead middle,” Craddock said. “Because I hit the meat, that ball would’ve gone a long way.”
Craddock will never know how far it would have traveled. He didn’t realize it at the time, but his natural kick veered to the left.
The kick clanged off the left upright and tumbled to the ground. Craddock fell to the turf, too, lying motionless with his hands on his helmet as the heartbroken Terps fans shouted obscenities. Craddock tried to lift himself up, but he sunk back to the ground.
He’d let his American family down.
“You see these guys every day,” Craddock said. “And you pretty much lost the game on a 33-yard field goal you shouldn’t be missing. It was pretty rough. It knocked me around a bit.”
Craddock trudged to the sideline and removed his helmet. When he went home in December, he considered never coming back.
Leonie and Raymond went to church after the Wolfpack game, but they rushed home when Leonie received a text message from her son: “Can I talk?”
“He was just upset,” Leonie said as her voice softened. “We … we just wanted to be with him, really.”
Craddock got through the rest of the season — talking with his parents every day — before returning home for winter break. Within a week, he was back in the swing of things, catching up with his “mates” and enjoying the beach.
But when he first got home, his parents said he looked “terrible” and “worn out.”
The kicker pondered his future. Why go back to the harsh realities of big-time college football? Without any expectations weighing him down, he felt at peace in Australia.
Then he watched the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
A back-and-forth contest had come down to the final play. With LSU clinging to a 24-22 lead, all eyes turned to Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro. He drilled the 37-yarder through the uprights as time expired and fell to the turf. But unlike Craddock two months ago, Catanzaro wasn’t lying alone. His teammates covered him in a dogpile.
“It was just like, ‘That’s what I want,’” Craddock said.
A couple of days before he was scheduled to return to College Park, Craddock sat with Leonie and Raymond in the family room where they’d spent countless happy hours playing games.
Looking back on it three years later, Craddock said he knew he wouldn’t have stayed home. But he still needed some convincing.
“It doesn’t bother us whether you come home or if you want to go back. We will back you regardless of what you do,” Leonie recalled telling her son. “But all we want you to be able to do is say you have no regrets.”
He couldn’t say that, though. The pain from The Miss hurt too much. So Craddock asked his parents to help him find a coach.
Craddock sits after missing a 53-yard field goal that would have tied the game with two minutes to go when the Terps lost to Rutgers, 41- 38, in their final home game of the season at Byrd Stadium on Nov. 29 2014. (Christian Jenkins/The Diamondback)
Matt Stover, sixth all-time in NFL field goals made, had to urge his new pupil to slow down. Craddock was kicking too much.
Craddock initially didn’t know much about Stover but was put into contact with the two-time Super Bowl winner through former NFL kicker Michael Husted. In the past, Stover had mentored future NFL kickers Mason Crosby and Phil Dawson.
The two met on a chilly February 2013 day at St. Paul’s School’s field. Craddock “didn’t know what to fix,” but after his first session with Stover, he sent a text message to his mother: “This guy’s a genius.”
Using Kickertips.com and SmartMotion, Stover broke down Craddock’s technique frame-by-frame.
“The first session, I blew his mind,” Stover said. “He had no idea what he didn’t know. And I was able to share with him just by watching two or three kicks exactly why he missed left, why he missed right and what his real issues were.”
Craddock was instructed to kick 900 balls over 10 weeks, but Stover said the Australian was on pace to kick nearly 1,200 balls.
Stover noticed Craddock’s natural motion pulled the ball left, so he urged his student to utter a mantra before he kicked: “left arm.”
With a solid grasp of Stover’s techniques, Craddock showed improvement in 2013, going 21-for-25. But he wasn’t satisfied.
Craddock sits on the bench during Maryland's 31-30 loss to Penn State at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Oct. 24, 2015.
The two referees stationed on opposite sides of the uprights raised their hands in the air.
Forty-three yards away, Craddock jumped in the air and pumped his fist as his teammates chest-bumped him. A little more than two years after The Miss, Craddock had sealed the Terps’ first win over Penn State in 53 years.
“That was massive,” Leonie said. “There was a lot of healing done in that game.”
Stover wasn’t happy with the kick, though. He worried it veered too much to the left. But he wanted to test Craddock, so he asked the then-junior if he still wanted to partake in their scheduled session later that week. Craddock said yes.
“I said, ‘Dude, you just kicked the game-winning field goal, why do you want to get together?’” Stover said. “He said, ‘I want to get better.’ And I went, ‘Holy cow.’
“Brad wants the ball. Even though it’s just for a split-second. Whenever he gets it, he wants the responsibility of that ball on his foot. And he knows every time he kicks that ball, it’s for the team.”
Craddock went 18 of 19 last season en route to earning the Lou Groza Award, given to the best college kicker in the country.
Craddock winds up to kick a field goal when the Terps lost to Penn State, 31-30, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Oct. 24, 2015. (Christian Jenkins)
On Oct. 26, Craddock resembled a politician at the team’s weekly media availability. He could only walk for so long before someone offered a handshake or started a conversation.
He charmed the local media, chatted with wrestling coach Kerry McCoy and even offered a reporter a slice of pizza.
“Brad made himself what he is today,” Edsall said in August. “When other people see that, there’s a tremendous amount of respect for him. So then when he speaks, they listen.”
The 2015 campaign hasn’t been easy on Craddock. Through eight games, the Terps have only two victories and need to win all of their remaining contests to qualify for a bowl game. In the middle of the season, Edsall, Craddock’s most vocal supporter, was fired.
Later on Oct. 26, Craddock sat with a reporter in the Tyson Tower press box, gazing through the glass at Capital One Field. He hasn’t forgotten about The Miss. He hasn’t forgotten about letting his teammates down.
“It still burns me,” Craddock said.
The senior has no regrets. The Miss knocked him down, but he picked himself up. In a foreign country, with an infamous reputation, he forced himself to improve. He got a coach, worked until he became the best kicker in the country and then worked some more.
“It’s a rough job from the sense of you’re a hero, you’re a villain,” Craddock said. “I like it, though. I like the pressure.”
Craddock concedes he’s thought about life after college. He’s expressed interest in playing professionally. But for now, he has a singular focus. In three days, his American family hosts Wisconsin at Byrd Stadium.
Joshua Needelman is an assistant sports editor and senior staff writer covering football for The Diamondback. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and @JoshNeedelman.