COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Monday Night Football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings started too late for Maryland kicker Brad Craddock, who was fast asleep by the near-midnight kickoff Sept. 14. But the Aussie, along with the rest of his native country, certainly heard all about the 49ers’ new fullback, former Australian National Rugby League star Jarryd Hayne. The 27-year-old rookie became the first Aussie position player (read: non-punter) to play in the NFL since defensive tackle Jesse Williams in 2013. And he’s easily the most renowned, Ockers sporting his National Team jersey like Americans do Aaron Rodgers’ or Peyton Manning’s.
“Hayne is like one of the most famous rugby players ever. The dude’s a beast,” said Craddock, who wasn’t aware Hayne actually fumbled his first touch as a 49er. “I don’t know him or anything, but it’s pretty cool to see him [in the NFL]. The game’s changing; getting more Aussies in there (laughs).”
Craddock, a former rugby player himself, may have an NFL future too one day, the reigning Lou Groza Award winner possessing the leg and accuracy to potentially hang at American football’s top level. But first the Terps’ much-ballyhooed booter has to finish out his college career strong -- after an inauspicious start to begin the 2015 campaign.
During the 50-21 triumph against Richmond, Craddock converted all three of his attempts from beyond 30 yards, but he also missed a chip-shot and, inexplicably, an extra-point try. Last year, Craddock misfired on just one field goal all season (he finished 18 of 19) and hadn’t sent a point-after wayward since 2013.
Some of the issues probably resulted from Maryland debuting a new holder (it was Nick Pritchard in Week One) and a new long snapper (Nate Adams), but the All-American kicker wasn’t about to pass the blame.
“I think I put a little too much pressure on myself the first game,” Craddock said. “I just had to step back, look at what I was doing, and go back to my fundamentals that make me who I am as a kicker. So I went back to that, and started stroking the ball a little better. It’s a process. Obviously with a new holder and snapper this year everything is a little different, but I just have to be the same guy on the field every week. It’s something I need to work on, and we’re getting there.”
Some fans surmised Craddock’s mental state may have been out of whack, considering he entered 2015 bearing the added stress of being the nation’s No. 1 kicker. But the affable Craddock didn’t give any credence to that theory either.
“That stuff, the expectations, it doesn’t bother me too much,” he said. “It’s more the expectations I have on myself to make field goals. If the pressure outside becomes greater than the pressure I put on myself, then I probably shouldn’t be playing the game. I expect perfection, and that’s what I strive for.”
Meanwhile, Terps’ head coach Randy Edsall vehemently defended his senior booter following the Richmond affair. He joked that Craddock was “human” and said he fully expected the Aussie to bounce back with aplomb.
“I know he’s disappointed but I haven’t lost any confidence in him,” Edsall said. “He was just trying too hard. I thought he was moving a little bit quick on the extra point. He’s such a perfectionist at everything else and you’ve just got to get him settled back down and get him back in sync. He’ll be OK.”
Indeed, he was. Although it was overshadowed by the team’s 48-27 loss to Bowling Green, Craddock knocked in both of his field goal tries, including a season-long 41-yarder, along with all three point-after attempts.
“You know, I had a good chat with [former Ravens Pro Bowl kicker] Matt Stover, him having been through it many times before. It was great talking to him, and to keep learning more and more from him,” Craddock said. “I’ve only been doing this [kicking] for three years, so the more I can learn from guys who have gone through it, the better I can be.
“But he just told me to trust my technique. Coming from a soccer background, you want to feel the ball when you kick it, and you have a technique you do to make sure that happens every time. You have to trust that technique no matter what -- that’s what Matt told me.”
Yes, the special teams ace readily returned to form -- and for good measure he gave Terps’ fans a little extra too. With a Maryland drive stalling at the Bowling Green 40-yard line, Craddock, culling up his rugby days from Down Under, dropped a pooch-punt that pinned the Falcons at their 1-yard-line. (BGSU proceeded to drive 99 yards for a touchdown).
“I didn’t have one warm-up either [before the game],” Craddock said, laughing. “But it’s kind of natural. … It’s that end-over-end kick, and it’s what I’ve been doing since I was four. I was recruited as a punter, so it was good to finally show that I could do what I was recruited for (laughs). But it was fun to get out there, and it felt good to pin them.”
Evidently Craddock only began practicing the pooch two weeks ago. He said Edsall recently approached him about giving it a try, so the ex-rugby punting star took a few swings after practice.
“It wasn’t very often,” Craddock admitted. “But it felt pretty good [in practice], and, like I said, it kind of came naturally.”
UMD aficionados haven’t seen the last of it either. After the loss, Edsall offered up this tidbit: “Brad’s going to do that [the pooch punt] for us.”
Just another dimension added to Maryland’s most effective unit. Between Craddock’s leg, Will Likely’s return prowess and punter Nick Pritchard’s emergence, the Terps’ special teams figures to be a consistent bright spot moving forward.
“We’re doing well punting, kicking, returning … Will has obviously done great and has been a game-changer for us,” said Craddock, who mentioned the team has already forgotten about Bowling Green and moved on to South Florida in Week Three. “[Special teams] is a big part of the game. It’s a big part of the game every week.”