Drew Conrad’s attention to small details almost borders on obsessive.
When he is on the field as IU’s starting field goal holder, his mind assesses everything. The kicker has to block out his surroundings and focus on getting the ball through the uprights, but Conrad has taken it upon himself to take care of the rest.
When it comes to minor factors that might ruin the kicker’s concentration, Conrad tries to find a way to block it out for him.
He offers a high five to the kicker as a confidence boost. He evaluates the wind and adjusts to its gusts. He reminds the kicker of the most important things — keep your head down and swing downfield.
“Those are the little things you have to do,” Conrad said. “If that’s the last thing you’re thinking about before you kick it, there’s no reason you should miss.”
Conrad’s position is one not many dream about having when they think about being a starting college football player. On the field for less than a minute at a time, crouching down on his knees behind a towering row of offensive lineman, Conrad can go unnoticed by most casual fans.
The only time he might get any recognition is if he makes a mistake. To be good at Conrad’s job is to be invisible.
“He's so unselfish and he just does his job and most people don't even know who he is,” IU Coach Tom Allen said. “But he's a tremendously valuable part of our team because he cares more about this team than he does himself.”
Holder isn’t the most appealing position but it’s one Conrad has fully embraced and loves to talk about.
When explaining his technique on something as simple as holding the football, Conrad sticks his hands out to demonstrate, staring off into the distance as if he’s visualizing himself doing it on the field.
“I always like to keep the ball out in front of me and make sure that the kicker has constant visualization with the ball,” Conrad said. “That’s what I always stress, making sure the ball is out in front of my body, even if it is a little harder to catch.”
He snaps out of his trance for a moment and shoots a quick glance out of the side of his eye, his hands still frozen in mid-air in his holding technique.
“I feel like that’s something not a lot of holders around the country think about.”
Conrad has played football nearly his whole life, starting competitive play as early as second grade. He tried as many positions as he could, and in third grade, after some urging from his father, he begrudgingly started kicking.
As the kids around him started to grow and mature in middle school, Conrad lagged behind. By the time he was a freshman at Center Grove High School, he was only 5-foot-5, and he knew his football career might be almost over.
But Conrad still wanted to compete, so he adapted.
“My dad told me to learn how to kick because it will keep you in the game, it will keep you part of the team,” Conrad said. “I saw how beneficial it could be to me beyond high school.”
Conrad excelled as he took over punting duties for a successful Center Grove team where he played alongside current IU teammates Gavin Everett, Nathanael Snyder and Jacob Limbach.
By the time he ended his senior year, Conrad had racked up numerous awards, culminating in a Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference record for punting yardage and a state title as a senior in 2015.
He received scholarship offers from some smaller schools but decided to join IU’s team as a preferred walk-on instead.
“Education was always the most important thing to me and the opportunities I saw both on the field and off the field at IU were far better than any other school I could have hoped for,” Conrad said.
While he had more success as a punter, high school was also where he started picking up the art of holding.
“Holding the ball is a little part of the game,” Conrad said. “But when you take a lot of pride in it and it’s done well, it can have a huge impact.”
There’s one moment everyone asks Conrad about, and it’s not from any game.
A few days prior to the Big Ten Network’s visit to an open practice this offseason, the Hoosiers were told they might be looking for some social media content. Everybody on IU’s team knew who to turn to.
The field goal unit, a group that refers to themselves as the “trust team,” had become known for pulling off impressive trick shots. When asked to come up with one for the cameras, the stunt they concocted would definitely test that trust for Conrad.
“The double hold Gatorade shot,” as they called it, consisted of long snapper Dan Godsil snapping two balls to Conrad, who would catch each with one hand.
Then, he would hold them to the ground as kickers Logan Justus and Jared Smolar would simultaneously kick field goals. After the two made kicks, Conrad would raise his arms above his head signaling a made field goal, while Justus would place an empty Gatorade bottle on top of his head.
Then, Godsil would cap it off with another long snap that would knock the bottle off Conrad’s head, bringing the ball inches from his scalp.
They practiced it a few times leading up to the eventual taping of the stunt. With the cameras rolling, the four of them perfected it in one shot.
Conrad didn’t even flinch.
This deep trust comes in part from Conrad and his special teams comrades spending time together off the field, whether it’s playing intramural basketball or video games.
“I would do anything for these guys,” Conrad said. “And I feel that same way about how they feel about me.”
Godsil’s praise for Conrad is blunt. All he has to do is give a half shrug and a smirk, as if his answer should just go without saying.
“Holder of the year,” Godsil said. “He’s the best in the business.”
Allen has often called Conrad the most valuable special teams player on his team.
When Conrad earned the starting holder position during his redshirt freshman season in 2017, he played an integral role in then-kicker Griffin Oakes earning his second Bakken-Andersen Big Ten Kicker of the Year Award after going 16-17 on field goals on the season.
Yet, despite his accomplishments so far, Conrad knows holders don’t generally go to the NFL, so he has different goals set for his future. It’s something he gets more excited to talk about than holding a football.
Conrad is an accounting major in the Kelley School of Business but takes a lot of pride in the fact he is a co-major in Law Ethics and Decision-Making.
He wants to eventually go to law school and have a career in corporate law. His interest in the field began when he job-shadowed his uncle and mentor, Jeremy Nix, an attorney now with his own practice in Huntington, Indiana.
“I just got to see the daily visits he does with clients,” Conrad said. “It was awesome because it’s something new every day, a new case, a new situation.”
There are a lot of parallels in the ways Conrad talks about his love for the legal profession and his football career.
There’s an excited, yet deeply focused way in which he speaks. He can go meticulously in-depth on every tiny aspect of each subject.
“Passion” is a word he often uses when talking about both.
“I think with the legal passion, the people who are best at it are the people who take a lot of pride in what they do and pay attention to the little details, the small things,” Conrad said. “So I think it would be a really good profession for me.”
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