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Kicker Brad Craddock Brings Unique Brand Of Leadership To Terps

October 15, 2015

Sensing a teammate in need, Maryland tight end Avery Edwards joined the horde of reporters surrounding senior kicker Brad Craddock. It was just revealed the team's leadership council called for an impromptu players-only meeting earlier that morning, three days after the Terps were on the wrong side of a 45-6 thrashing in West Virginia Sept. 26.  

As the de facto front man of that committee, Craddock had just spent the last 20 minutes fielding questions about leadership. The Australian looked spent. 

In stepped Edwards, the gregarious freshman who has already made an impact on the field in College Park, Md. He gestured that he'd like to ask the next question, and the media acquiesced. "What makes you such a great leader, Brad?" Edwards said. 

And with that, Craddock's interrogation ended with a laugh. 

It would seem the attention Craddock's leadership skills have drawn has become a running inside joke within Maryland's locker room. Former Terps head coach Randy Edsall anointed his kicker the "best leader that we have on our football team" at Big Ten media day in Chicago July 30. 

Edsall was later fired Oct. 11 after the team's 2-4 start to the season. 

Craddock has endured a steady stream of questions since, as incredulous media types try to come to grips with the idea of a placekicker as the face of a Power Five conference football team.

It's not an easy concept to grasp. After all, Craddock sat in front of reporters on this day after a game during which he attempted no extra points or field goals. The Terps would lose to Michigan, 28-0, Oct. 3, and Craddock's responsibilities were again limited to kickoffs and punts, not exactly the parts of his job that earned him the 2014 Lou Groza Award as the nation's best kicker. 

"I think you face challenges in everything you do all the time," Craddock said. "The best are the guys that can bounce back from that. So it's really just showing what we're made of. It's just a challenge -- another thing that we have to push through and get through."

Craddock's levelheadedness is why the Terps have no problem allowing their kicker to speak on their behalf. Along with junior cornerback Will Likely, Craddock graced the cover of the team's first media guide. He was the only specialist in Chicago for Big Ten media day. During the offseason, he asked Edsall if he could head up the leadership council, and his request was quickly granted. 

Now, none of that would be possible if Craddock wasn't a star on the field. Beyond netting the Groza Award, the Australian received All-American and All-Big Ten nods last season while setting the Maryland record for longest field goal (57 yards). He entered this year first in program history in single-season field goal percentage (94.7) and career field goal percentage (81.7). Between 2013 and 2014, Craddock drilled 24 straight field goals, a Terps record that likely won't be broken anytime soon.  

Craddock has all the makings of an NFL kicker, but it's the journey that got him here that has enabled him to lead from the special teams huddle. Craddock was recruited to Maryland from Australia as a punter, and he only moved to placekicker out of necessity. He came to a new country, learned a new position and, within three years, became the nation's best. 

"I tell you, in 17 years as a head coach, I've never had the leadership that we have right now on our team," Edsall said at Big Ten media day. "And it's all because of Brad Craddock and what he's done."

Craddock was the special teams representative on last year's leadership council, but he was a passive participant within a senior-heavy group, according to Edsall. Things changed as soon as the torch was passed, with Craddock and others promoting an atmosphere of collaboration and open communication. The most recent players-only meeting might garner the most attention, but it was hardly the first. 

"It's a little different now," Craddock said. "We're trying to get more involvement in leadership and get guys to speak up, say how they feel and support the team. It shouldn't just come from 10 guys -- it should be leaders leading leaders. I think we've gotten a lot better at that."

The self-governance comes at an opportune time for Maryland. The Terps lost 13 starters from a year ago, a season that saw them win seven games and make a second straight bowl trip. Many saw this as a rebuilding season in College Park, but challenging times are ahead for the Terps, who have just begun a daunting Big Ten slate.

"I think the biggest thing is keeping things positive and encouraging the guys," Craddock said. "The stuff they're doing well, just harp on those things, and make sure we make the corrections where we need to. Obviously, I'm looking after my lot, and then each leader has their group that they have to look after. That's the biggest thing -- staying positive and keeping guys' minds on what is to come."

Regardless of how ugly it may get for Edsall and Maryland this season, good things are coming for Craddock. It will be difficult for the Australian to become the second repeat winner of the Groza Award. He's connected on 5-of-6 field goals and 17-of-18 extra points through six games; he was 11-for-11 on field goals and 25-for-25 on extra points at this point last season. But Craddock already has an outstanding resume. And most importantly, he has an inexperienced team to lead. 

When his torturous media session was finally finished, Craddock smiled and wrapped his arm around the neck of the taller Edwards. "What makes you so funny?" Craddock asked, as he jokingly strengthened his grip around the young tight end's neck. Edwards laughed, and the two walked off together into the bowels of Byrd Stadium. 

Freshman and senior. Tight end and kicker. 

Issue 214: October 2015