When your kicker is your best player, it either says something about your team or says something about your kicker.
If you get Maryland head coach Randy Edsall going, he’ll won’t stop talking about what is says about his kicker.
Terps kicker Brad Craddock is the reigning Groza Award winner, the best kicker in the country, so the award honors. Craddock missed just one of the 19 field goals he attempted last season. He nailed a 57-yarder at one point and went 11-for-12 from 40 yards out or more. He banged through all 44 extra points he tried. So, yeah he’s the best kicker in the country.
In fact, his accuracy is causing Edsall to think differently in situations, and the coach admits it’s not always for the best.
“It's great to have somebody like Brad who is consistent as he is,” Edsall said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “But then also … it could be a little bit of a crutch for the head coach in terms of making those decisions because you know you've got a guy that can put the ball through consistently. But you might have a feel that, hey, you can go for that two yards or three yards or one yard or whatever. And you might be able to get it. But gets you thinking sometimes because you've got Mr. Automatic on the sideline.”
Kickers are regularly mocked for various reasons, but when you’ve got one the caliber of Craddock, it makes life a heck of a lot easier. It can be the difference between wins and losses, as the Terps found out when he converted a game-winning kick to beat Penn State by a point in the final minute. It was Maryland’s biggest win of 2014, and if Craddock doesn’t connect on the 43-yarder, the Terps lose that game.
So while it’s not getting knocked around by a 300-pound lineman on a regular basis, kicking is still a tough gig.
“I think if you look it a big picture it’s a little daunting. It’s definitely a hard job,” Craddock said Monday during the team’s media day. “If you go in to kick and you miss, then it’s a letdown for the whole team, and I get that. But that comes with the job. I like the pressure. For me, I look at it one kick at a time. Every kick, I’m 1-for-1, and then I look at the next kick like I’m 1-for-1. I keep everything small and condensed, and that’s how I approach it. Once something has happened you can’t dwell on it if you miss one kick, which happens because no one is perfect.”
Craddock’s already earned the best thing a college kicker can earn, but it’s not stopping him. Only one player ever — Florida State’s Sebastian Janikowski — has won the Groza Award twice. So there’s more to achieved, be it in award form or simply in helping Maryland be better than the 7-6 record it posted last season.
“I look at it like I have to be the best I can be, and I still have work to do,” Craddock said. “I’m still not quite satisfied with where I am, but I will get there.”
But if there’s one thing that’s impressed Edsall more than anything else, it’s Craddock’s attitude and behavior from a leadership perspective.
The head coach painted a lengthy picture at Big Ten Media Days about his offseason interactions with Craddock and what it means to him and this football team.
“The thing that's really interesting about him, the best leader that we have on our football team is Brad Craddock,” Edsall said. “And to share a little story with you because to me that's what it's all about, it's all about the student-athletes, but Brad came to me after last season and said to me — and we have a leadership council at the University of Maryland. And I take one player from each position and take a special team’s guy. And he came to me and he said, ‘Coach,’ he said, ‘I want to really head this leadership council up.’ And he said, ‘I know we can be a lot better.’ So we had sat down. And I told him, I said, ‘You come to me with who you feel can be leaders on our football team and get accomplished the things that we want to get accomplished.’ And we had a couple meetings. But, really, I mean, he and I agreed just about on every one except I think maybe one guy. And then I kind of put it in his control to take care of business and do those things. And I meet with them during the season once a week. Met with them in the offseason maybe every two weeks.
“But I tell you, in 17 years as a head coach, I've never had the leadership that we have right now on our team. And it's all because of Brad Craddock and what he's done. And last year he — we were talking what he was doing. And I went in front of our team and I said, ‘You know, some of you guys need to go and sit down with Brad and talk to him in terms of how he was able to transform himself the way he did. And he came all the way from Australia not knowing anybody.’ And Yannick Ngakoue, our outstanding defensive end, went and spent three hours with Brad and gained knowledge from Brad. And then that started to spread and to permeate to where we are now. So not only is he a great kicker, he's a great person, he’s a great leader. And I'll tell you one thing: He's a very, very special, special person.”
And he’s also one heck of a kicker. He’s the best kicker in the country. A pretty nice luxury for the Terps to have.