When Oscar Bradburn first committed to Virginia Tech, many people were unfamiliar with the Australia native. For many Hokies, their first interaction with Bradburn was a viral video of him booming punts on a soccer field.
Three years later, Bradburn has emerged as one of the nation’s top punters. According to head coach Justin Fuente, Bradburn’s unique attitude and work ethic helped him get to where he is now.
“He is a competitive individual,” Fuente said. “He is into the game, he’s into competition, and he’s into improvement.”
In his first two seasons, Bradburn proved that he had a strong leg. However, his distance on punts was a bit inconsistent.
As a freshman, Bradburn booted 66 punts for an average of 42.4 yards a punt. His sophomore stats were very similar, as he punted the ball 69 times for an average of 42.6.
This season, Bradburn is on pace to greatly improve upon those numbers. Through the first five games, he is averaging 48.4 yards per punt, good for third in the country in that category. Justin Fuente credits part of that improvement to Bradburn's improved leg strength.
“He’s made large gains in the weight room,” Fuente said. “I think his leg has strengthened over the last year and a half or so.”
Fuente also knows that distance is not the only thing that matters for punters. One other important aspect is getting the ball high enough to allow your coverage team time to get down the field.
So far in his career, Bradburn has done a good job of that. He forced 32 fair catches in each of his first two seasons, and he has already seen 14 of his punts fair caught through 5 games this year. Fuente said that will continue to be a focus as ACC play ramps up.
“Getting the ball up in the air is going to be important,” Fuente said. “That’s hard sometimes for players to think about, but giving us a chance to cover the kick without a return because of the hangtime is going to be important as we move forward.”
A specific area where Bradburn has improved is in reducing the number of touchbacks from his punts. In his first two years, Bradburn saw 11 punts go for touchbacks. This year, just 2 of his punts have resulted in touchbacks.
Possibly the most impressive stat for Bradburn, though, is that of his 25 punts, 13 of them have traveled over 50 yards. That is 5 more than his total from all of last year, and it has landed his name on the radar for the Ray Guy Award for the nation’s best punter.
Last year, Texas A&M punter Braden Mann won the Ray Guy award. He averaged 51.0 yards per punt with 28 of his punts going over 50 yards.
This year, Bradburn is on pace to break that mark for his number of 50+ yard punts. He already has 13 through 5 games, which is an average of 2.6 per game. Translated to 12 games, that would be a pace of about 31 punts over 50 yards.
Bradburn’s average punt distance is not quite as good as Mann’s last season, but he has time to improve upon that. Interestingly enough, Mann has dropped a bit in that category this year, and he is averaging the exact same distance as Bradburn at 48.4 yards per punt.
Mann also only has 11 punts over 50 yards this year, compared to 13 for Bradburn. By almost all accounts, Bradburn is keeping up with the pace for the Ray Guy Award this season.
In addition to his national recognition, Bradburn is looking to get some attention within the ACC. He leads the conference in average punt distance by more over a full yard, and his season long punt of 69 yards is 4 yards longer than any other ACC punter this season. At this point, Bradburn is the clear frontrunner for an All-ACC First Team spot at punter.
In an ideal world for Virginia Tech, Bradburn would not have to punt too often. Yet when the offense does get stopped and is forced to punt the ball away, Bradburn is a great asset to have, and Fuente does not take that for granted.
“He’s becoming a weapon for us,” Fuente said. “He’s taking a lot of pride in that.”