Not much has changed in the past four years for Wilde Lake's George Bradford.
He came to the Columbia high school as a freshman soccer goalie, dreaming of making the big save, then booming the punt well downfield. This year, as a senior punter for the top-ranked Wilde Lake football team, though the uniform has changed, the dream remains the same.
Yesterday, his strong leg and pinpoint accuracy in the kicking game was the key factor in his team's 10-0 win over previously unbeaten Howard.
After kicking a 38-yard field goal late in the first quarter, he kept the Lions at their end of the field all day with long, angling punts that four times pinned Howard (4-1, 1-1) inside its 17 and twice inside its 6.
"Bradford's a great kicker," said Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall, whose team improved to 5-0 overall, and 2-0 in the Howard County League, "and it was largely because of him and our defense that we had great field position all day."
Said Howard coach John Quinn: "[Wilde Lake's] punter and their special teams were the difference in the game. With a defense as good as theirs, when you have to start from inside your own 10, you're in a lot of trouble."
Bradford, whose brother Jack, a four-year player at Maryland, was recently cut by the Washington Redskins, said it felt like old times playing on a Wilde Lake field that hadn't been marked for football and still was in soccer configuration from a previous game.
"Just playing on the field brings back memories," said Bradford, who added that his kicking mechanics were the best they had been all season. "I just aimed the ball to the corner and tried to get it inside the 10. My soccer background helps a lot. I've been in a little slump lately, but I was able to get a couple good ones off today."
With a Wilde Lake offense that out-gained Howard, 192-78, but had trouble putting the ball in the end zone, those punts were crucial. Top running back Damon Hamlin, hampered by a right-ankle sprain, rushed 20 times for just 60 yards.
After settling for the field goal on their first possession of the game, the Wildecats got to the 2 before losing the ball on downs in their next drive. On subsequent first-half drives, Wilde Lake had an apparent touchdown reception wiped out by a holding call and another disallowed after the referee ruled the receiver out of the end zone on fourth down.
The Wildecats' only touchdown came on a Phil White-to-Steve Alleyne 62-yard pass completion on the opening drive of the