There's always a story behind football's specialists. No right-minded, gridiron-aspiring American male, after all, grows up wanting to snap the ball for a living; line up 15 yards behind the play on fourth downs and punt; or even boot the pigskin between the goalposts.
So it's no surprise, then, that Maryland's newest punter, senior Lee Shrader (Warwick High/Newport News, Va.), happened upon his trade almost by accident. See, when Shrader was in fourth grade he towered over his peers and looked more like a linebacker or defensive end than some future Ray Guy. But one day after rec-league practice, Shrader and a couple teammates began kicking the ball around just for the heck of it.
Naturally, most of the kicks were half-hearted attempts (hey, we're talking about fourth graders), but Shrader's boots were a bit different. As he recalls, they traveled much higher and farther than anyone else's, opening the eyes of several onlookers.
"So one parent came over to and showed me how to stand and how to hold the ball," Shrader said. "And that's how I got started."
And the rest is history? Not quite.
Shrader may have had a natural gift, but, really, who wants to be a punter in fourth grade? So he tabled his trade for the next several years before it came in handy once again when he reached Warwick High School.
He entered tryouts his freshman year hoping to make the jayvee as a tight end and defensive end. But in the first month of training camp, his coach saw him kicking the ball one day after practice.
You can guess what happened next.
"After that he wouldn't let me play any other position besides punter," Shrader said. "And I was totally fine with it. I knew I had potential as a punter and it could possibly get me to college, so I went for it."
Now, Shrader may have had a big foot, but he was no natural. As anyone who's ever punted or kicked an oblong object in their backyards can tell you, it ain't as easy as it seems (Charlie Brown still hasn't gotten it down).
Shrader's initial attempts were solid, but he needed to learn the steps, the timing, the approach, and, most importantly, the mental tricks needed to succeed. Fortunately for him, there were two senior kickers on the team who had little to no interest in punting. So Shrader said both of them, along with his coach, taught him the basics of punting, and by the time camp had ended Shrader had done enough to earn the starting job – on the varsity no less.
Following a successful initial campaign, Shrader decided to dedicate himself to punting, effectively trashing those tight end dreams. He attended several kicking camps in the summer and began working with trainers and kicking coaches several times a week.
"That's when I went from a kid just kicking the ball," Shrader said, "to becoming an actual punter."
After two years, Shrader ratcheted the training up another notch. He began receiving tutelage from the likes of ex-college and NFL punters in the Newport News area, including Cameron Muro (Hampton University), Jamie Kohl (Seattle Seahawks), Todd Covington (several NFL teams) and others. He said his work with Muro "changed everything," as Shrader went from a solid booter to one with a chance to succeed at the highest levels of college football.
"I took a little bit from each guy to get where I'm at now. You just pick up on stuff along the way," said Shrader, who aside from all his kicking lessons enjoys working with kids at the local YMCA. "When I'm watching games, I watch every punt. Us punters, we're a different breed (laughs). I learned a variety of techniques, a variety of things I could use."
After a standout junior campaign, Shrader went on to average 40.7 yards a punt and place 17 of his 46 kicks inside the 20-yard-line last year. He did not have a punt blocked, while returners had a total of 10 return yards.
"I'm a two-step punter, and I get the ball off quickly, and that's one attribute that colleges liked about me," Shrader said. "I'm also 6-3, 200 pounds with long legs, so I naturally get a lot of height on the ball and hangtime, which correlates to inside the 20s kicks and fair catches. I'm not one to just drive the ball down the field, I'm one to hang it up there so my coverage team can get down there. I only had 10 return yards total all of last year, and that was my biggest stat – not my average or hangtime or punts inside the 20, but the fact [returners] couldn't return the ball."
While Muro helped Shrader with those high, arching punts, it was Kohl who vaulted him onto the national stage. Kohl actually runs a renowned national program where he and his staff scan the country and rank the best high school kickers and punters in the nation. After Shrader punted for Kohl in December, he was ranked No. 11 nationally and given a five-star rating.
"I balled out. The weather was so cold and every one of my kicks was hitting the top of the dome. I was by far the best one there," Shrader said. "That's when I really started to take off with recruiting."
His first interest came from area programs like Old Dominion, James Madison and Old Dominion. But after attending summer college camps he began to generate high Division I intrigue.
He went to Alabama's camp, and apparently Nick Saban ranked him among the top five punters he considered offering. He trekked up to Rutgers, performed equally as well, and received a preferred walk-on offer on the spot. Shrader went to Maryland, too, but the Terps didn't give him the walk-on opportunity until a bit later in the game.
Then, after his senior season, even more suitors began contacting him. Memphis saw him work out, Penn State liked him so much they gave a preferred walk-on, Colorado followed suit, and Kentucky wanted him as well. Shrader even procured full scholarship offers from I-AA schools like Alabama State, Indiana State and St. Francis (Pa.), in addition to Division II schools.
"I had opportunities elsewhere, but I wanted to and felt I was good enough for the high Division I level. I knew I could compete," Shrader said. "It's rare for kickers and punters to get full rides right out of high school. I knew going in I'd have to walk on at least the first semester and then go from there."
Maryland, for its part, joined Colorado, Kentucky, PSU and the others in extending the preferred walk-on opportunity. Special teams coach Andrew Powell watched Shrader work out and later told him he'd love to have him in the program.
"I went to Maryland's camp the last two years, I saw a game during the season and the special teams coach there, Andre Powell, knew who I was," Shrader said. "Then after the rankings came out, he contacted me about potentially walking on, saying they needed me there because their punter would be graduating soon. I went on an unofficial visit, and of all the schools I saw, they recruited me the heaviest. It really was the best situation for me."
It was the best situation from a punting perspective, but also coaching wise and academically as well.
"What most impressed me was their whole academic curriculum. I did not realize how good of a school Maryland was. They're a top 20 school, a public Ivy," said Shrader, who owns a 3.5 GPA and wants to major in business administration. "The other thing would be the coaching staff and players were unlike anywhere else I visited. They were all very friendly and honest with me, and I felt I could trust them. The facilities were great, their affiliation with Under Armour is a huge pull.
"It was everything I was looking for in a college. I can't wait to get started."
Shrader's Bringing a Big Foot to College Park
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