For the majority of college football players, having their name called during the NFL Draft is the ultimate goal. But for Brownwood High School graduate and Kansas State kicker Matthew McCrane, not hearing his name this weekend may have worked out better for him.
Following Saturday’s conclusion of the NFL Draft, McCrane signed a rookie free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals. In doing so, McCrane was able to pick the job he will compete for, instead of possibly being drafted by a team where the road to a spot on the 53-man roster could have be more challenging.
“My agent and I knew the draft may be a possibility, but it was a long shot, but we wanted to go Arizona so it worked out,” McCrane said. “The way the draft shook up, a lot more punters got drafted than we anticipated. Two kickers got drafted and we thought I’d be the next one, the third one to go, and unfortunately I didn’t get drafted. But it worked out and I got to go to Arizona, which is where I ultimately wanted to go.”
McCrane and the Cardinals have expressed a mutual interest since McCrane took part in the East-West Shrine Game back in January.
“Jeff Rogers, their special teams coach, worked me out following the East-West Shrine Game and he actually coached at K-State under Ron Prince before Coach (Bill) Snyder got there the second time,” McCrane said. “I had a good workout with him, did really well, and he’s been great. He called me about six or seven times during the draft to see how I was doing. He let me know if Arizona had a late pick they’d try and get me and if not they’d do their best in free agency.”
Talking with former Brownwood teammate Jaxon Shipley, who was on the Cardinals roster as a receiver in 2015-16, also aided McCrane in his decision.
“I’m excited getting to follow in Jaxon’s footsteps,” McCrane said. “I love the organization, the GM, the owner and the new coach. I think it’s a great place to be.”
Though Arizona proved to be McCrane’s destination, that wasn’t the only franchise that showed interest.
“We had a top 10 list of teams that we thought I had the best shot of making the 53-man roster,” McCrane said. “Arizona, Miami, the Jets and the Vikings were near the top. There were tons of teams we looked at either at free agent deals or getting drafted. We came to the conclusion that Arizona would be a good fit."
McCrane’s original plan during his time at Brownwood High was to kick for the University of Texas, where his family has roots, and where Dawson was a standout in the early 1990s. That was before Kansas State caught McCrane’s eye.
“My dad said he remembered seeing Phil Dawson kick at Darryl K. Royal Stadium, and now that I’m competing against him is pretty crazy,” McCrane said. “I think he’s 43 years old and I’m 23. To get there and learn from Phil and his experience in the NFL, that’s what I’m going to do while I’m there. But at the end of the day we’re competing for a job and there’s only 32 jobs in the NFL at what I do, being a place kicker. If I play in the preseason and do well and stay on the roster for Arizona, then great, but basically you’re trying out for every team in the preseason.”
At Brownwood, McCrane converted on 41 of 44 extra points and 7 of 12 field goals with a school record 52-yarder coming in a 28-14 playoff win over Glen Rose during his junior season. He also averaged 68 yards on his kickoff attempts, with 52 percent resulting in touchbacks.
As a senior, McCrane converted 27 of 28 extra-point attempts, with one blocked, and booted 3 of 3 field goals with a long of 46. McCrane also averaged 65 yards per kickoff.
McCrane then went on to re-write the record book at Kansas State as he is the program leader in career field goals made (57), field-goal percentage (86.3), extra-point percentage (99.2) and field goals made longer than 50 yards (5). He connected on 57 of 66 field goals and 133 of 134 extra points.
“My goal following high school as a kicker was to play in the National Football League,” McCrane said. “I played quarterback and wide receiver at Brownwood and was kicking on the side, so I didn’t think I was going to make it to the next level. Then when kicking came into play my junior and senior year, I thought maybe I had a shot. When I did well at K-State my freshman year, then my sophomore, junior and senior year, the dream met reality.”
Though he is signed to a contract, there are no guarantees when it comes to what his NFL future holds — and McCrane is fine with that.
“Getting a chance to play in the NFL, it’s a once in a lifetime deal,” McCrane said. “But if it all ended today and I got cut, I think it’s been a pretty good ride.”