SI Vault
 
Big foot
Tim Layden
December 20, 1999
Sebastian Janikowski's powerful leg could win a national championship for Florida State—and reunite mother and son
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 20, 1999

Big Foot

Sebastian Janikowski's powerful leg could win a national championship for Florida State—and reunite mother and son

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Player. College

Round,Year

Seasons

Team

FGs(%)

PATs(%)

Points

Martin Gramatica, Kansas State

3rd, 1999

1

Bucs

22 of 26 (84.6)

21 of 21 (100)

87

Brett Conway, Penn State

3rd, 1997

3

Redskins

18 of 26 (69.2)

43 of 44 (97.7)

97

Steve McLaughlin, Arizona

3rd, 1995

1

Inactive

8 of 16 (50.0)

17 of 17 (100)

41

Doug Brien, Cal

3rd, 1994

6

Saints

121 of 151 (80.1)

181 of 184 (98.4)

544

Jason Bam, Hawaii

3rd, 1993

7

Broncos

179 of 228 (78.5)

280 of 281 (99.6)

817

Jason Hanson, Washington

2nd, 1992

8

Lions

192 of 237 (81.0)

271 of 276 (98.2)

847

Quite possibly the Sugar Bowl's national championship game will come down to the left foot of a 260-pound Polish placekicker with a skull as smooth as Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura's, a football history that dates only to his senior year in high school, a deep love for his parents (the father in the U.S., the mother at home in Poland) and just slightly less affection for gut-busting buffets, cold beer and late-night games of nine ball in Tallahassee pool halls. From Florida State's perspective there'll be no problem if the game does come to this, because Seminoles junior Sebastian Janikowski has been preparing since childhood to carry his team to a clutch victory, except that the sport in his imagination was soccer and his team was AC Milan. Details, details. Is this a great country, or what?

On the night of Jan. 4, when No. 1 Florida State plays No. 2 Virginia Tech, the most lethal weapon in the Superdome will be Janikowski's meaty left leg, a freakish appendage that fires thunderbolts better judged by their sound than by their appearance. "It's like somebody fired a gun when he kicks," says Kerry Kramer, Janikowski's coach at Seabreeze High in Daytona Beach. "I never see his kicks," says Clay Ingram, the Seminoles' long snapper, "but I hear every one of them."

In three years at Florida State, Janikowski has made 65 of 83 field goal attempts (78.3%), with four coming from more than 50 yards. He is just as deadly kicking off: This fall 57 of his 83 kickoffs were touch-backs, and he drilled four through the uprights at the opposite end of the field, 75 yards away. The last two years he has won the Lou Groza Award, the kicker's Heisman, and on Monday was named to the All-America team.

Yet statistics and awards sanitize Janikowski's legend. In practice teammates watch him pound 70-yard field goals, small potatoes compared to the 82-yarder he kicked in practice at Seabreeze High. Last year Seminoles defensive back Abdual Howard blocked a Janikowski rocket in practice, and one of Howard's fingers is still disfigured from the impact. As Howard lay writhing on the ground, Janikowski stood over him and said, with a mix of Schwarzeneggerian malevolence and teammate's love, "Abdual, don't ever do that again. It's going to hurt really bad every time." Florida State players no longer try to block Janikowski's kicks in practice.

Janikowski is embraced by his teammates as a one-of-a-kind character whose accented, deadpan English and relentless good cheer provide a daily hoot. He'll also bust the chops of anybody in the locker room. "He won't let me forget that he made Playboy's All-America and I didn't," says guard Jason Whitaker, who has made other All-America teams. "It's impossible not to like him," says Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden.

It's also impossible to stay out at night with him, because Janikowski has been known to eat, drink and shoot pool until sunrise, which isn't necessarily a good thing. "Nobody on the team can keep up with him," says Ingram, "except maybe a couple of big, old offensive linemen. But pound for pound, it's no contest."

The same is true for his status among college kickers. Janikowski has said he will skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft, thus becoming one of the first kickers to leave early. He is expected be among the highest-drafted kickers in history. "He's got the most powerful leg ever coming out of college," says one AFC personnel man. "The ball explodes off his foot." An NFC executive says, "He's phenomenal. You cannot return his kicks."

NFL people don't view the 6'2" Janikowski as a fat-boy kicking specialist. Although he doesn't look it, he's athletic. He can bench-press 395 pounds and, despite having gained 40 pounds over the last three years, runs the 40 in 4.6 and has a 33-inch vertical leap. Since 1967, only two kickers have been taken in the first round: Russell Erxleben of Texas in 1979 and Steve Little of Arkansas in '78. No kicker has been drafted as high as the second round since Detroit took Washington's Jason Hanson there in '92.

The last six years have been a dizzying ride for Janikowski. In the spring of 1994 he was living with his mother in a small apartment in Walbrzych, Poland, hoping that one day they might join his father in the U.S. Now reality has surpassed those dreams. Last week he sat poolside at a resort in Orlando, where he would receive his Groza Award as part of a television show honoring top college players. "It hasn't hit me yet," he said. "It's all too unbelievable."

Sebastian, 21, the only child of Henryk and Halina Janikowski, was born in Walbrzych, a small city in southwestern Poland, close to the borders of what were Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Henryk was a pro soccer player, and Sebastian's first toys were stuffed soccer balls put in his crib. The Janikowskis moved whenever Henryk was traded or transferred, living in Walbrzych before going to Mielec for six seasons and then to Kraków for another before landing back in Walbrzych in 1985, when Sebastian was seven.

Continue Story
1 2 3