When Maryland placekicker Brad Craddock showed up for his first lesson with Matt Stover in February, the former Ravens All-Pro was struck by how little the freshman from Australia knew about the mechanics and psychology of kicking.
Yet Stover saw something in Craddock that he had seen before with others he had tutored, most notably Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee. As with Scobee, who began working with Stover when he was in high school and later at Louisiana Tech, Stover turned an athlete into a kicker.
"All I had to do is just show him why you do what you do to be proficient," Stover said. "The neat thing about Brad is that you can show him one time and he can replicate it. That's big. If you have a kid who thinks he's a kicker but is not a good athlete, you'll only go so far. You get a really good athlete and he can adjust after just one kick, that's when you know that you can go to the next level."
Stover has been impressed by what he has seen from his latest protégé.
Over the first month of the 2013 season, Craddock has shown dramatic improvement with his consistency. He has gone from being an easily rattled freshman who made just 10 of 16 field goals to a suddenly unflappable sophomore who has made 10 of his first 11 attempts in helping No. 25 Maryland to a 4-0 start and its first appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 since 2010.
Craddock made all three of his attempts in the Terps' 37-0 win over West Virginia at M&T; Bank Stadium, including a 50-yarder. And he'll be an important player when they play No. 8 Florida State in Tallahassee on Saturday.
"If you watch his form from last year to this year, it's a huge difference," Stover said. "He knows how to break his habits and be consistent when he strikes the ball. With his knowledge and hard work, he now has confidence. I always tell him, 'Just because you were good one week doesn't mean you'll be good the next. You better get to work.'"
After missing a 50-yarder a week before at Connecticut, Craddock nailed a kick from the same distance Sept. 21 in Baltimore despite a heavy downpour and the tricky winds of M&T; Bank Stadium. A tip from Stover the night before the West Virginia game about predicting the winds certainly helped, but as Stover said after watching in person, "He absolutely crushed it."
There seems to be a different air about Craddock these days. As a freshman who came to College Park as a punter but won the placekicking job by default when Nick Ferrara was injured, Craddock couldn't differentiate between his makes — including a career-best 52-yarder against Wake Forest — and his misses, most notably a 33-yarder that hit off an upright and cost the Terps a win over North Carolina State.
"Last year I wasn't sure what I was doing," Craddock said after the West Virginia game. "I feel more confident in the team, because I've gotten to know them a lot over the last year. Getting used to the climate and the country helps as well. It's getting better — I think it's better every week. You miss a kick and you've got to go out there and make the next one."
Stover said he has worked with Craddock between "15 and 20 times" for up to two hours per session the past several months. While Craddock credits Stover — "I'm truly blessed to have him around to give me a hand," Craddock said — the kicker who made nearly 84 percent of his field goal attempts over a 19-year NFL career said Craddock deserves most of it.
"He's really done an excellent job of taking to heart what I've coached him. ... The guy has just put in the work that is necessary to be an excellent kicker," said Stover, who believes Craddock has the potential to kick in the NFL. "It's coming down to his work ethic, his desire to perform well and to be that guy the team can count on. He's done a great job and he has three more years to learn how to improve."
Stover also said that Maryland coach Randy Edsall and those on his staff who work with Craddock should get some credit.
"Randy Edsall has done an excellent job in putting a guy like Brad in an environment where he can be successful," Stover said. "I talked to Randy about him and I talked to the special teams coach [Andre Powell] and even the strength coach [Drew Wilson] and gave him suggestions about particulars of a kicker and punter. Randy and Brad have a really good rapport communication-wise, so they know his strengths and they know his limits, and they play to those."
Said Edsall, who last season briefly benched Craddock on field goal attempts in favor of Brendan Magistro, "I like Brad's approach to what he is doing. There's a lot more focus, a lot more confidence in what he's doing. It's good to see, because he works hard."
Stover said he has encouraged Craddock and freshman Adam Greene, who has worked with Stover since he was in high school at Broadneck, to become allies rather than competitors "and they have taken that to heart."
While Greene's background as a soccer player made the transition to placekicking easier than Craddock's transition as an Australian Rules footballer, Stover said it is similar to coaching a golfer.
"It's not like you show a quick fix to a golfer and he all of a sudden becomes a great golfer," Stover said. "He's got to hit a thousand balls, 10,000 balls. He's got to be comfortable in his own skin and he has to put in the work. ... It's the same way you do a golfer, it's a very technical motion, you need to know why you do what you do when you're in a game."
Craddock's next game will be the biggest the Terps have played to date under Edsall. Just as Edsall's team has a new-found confidence stemming from the program's best start in 12 years, so does its shaggy-haired kicker from down under.
"It's feeling good at the moment. I just got to keep working on it," said Craddock, who has made 17 of 18 PATs after making 23 of 25 last season. "I've been feeling pretty confident all year. It was the same as last week and the same as the week before. It's just doing that same work and same structure."