For the same reason galleries surround Tiger Woods on the tee box and fans postpone a beer run until after Mark McGwire bats, Florida State followers don't take their eyes off freshman kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Anytime Janikowski, a native of Walbrzych, Poland, swings his left leg—be it on a kickoff or a field goal—spectators could see the ball travel farther than they've ever watched it go before.
Against Maryland on Sept. 13 Janikowski hit a 49-yard field goal that landed in the fifth row of Doak Campbell Stadium, 15 yards past the uprights. On Oct. 4 against Miami, Janikowski kicked off and hit the right upright—70 yards from the spot of the kickoff—about 18 feet above the ground.
Through last Saturday's 47-21 victory over Virginia, Janikowski has banged 32 of 50 kickoffs into the end zone and made 8 of 12 field goals, including three from 44 yards or more. In short, the 6'2", 240-pound Janikowski has a chance to stand out at his position like no one since Princeton's Charlie Gogolak, who led the NCAA in field goals made in 1964 and, with his older brother Peter at Cornell, ushered in the era of the soccer-style kicker.
Like the Gogolaks, Janikowski grew up playing soccer. As a forward he was named to Poland's under-17 national team at the age of 15. He played a handful of games with the team before moving to Daytona Beach to be closer to his father, Hanryk.
At the time of his arrival in the U.S., all Sebastian knew about American football was what he had seen on an NFL Greatest Hits videotape his father had mailed to him. Then he attended a Florida State-Notre Dame game and was hooked. "With 80,000 people going crazy in a stadium, I knew I would like to play football," he says.
During his first 18 months in the U.S., Janikowski played only soccer, primarily at Orangewood Christian Academy in Maitland, Fla. He transferred to Daytona Beach Seabreeze High for his senior year and tried out for the football team. After his first kickoff sailed more than 70 yards, the 120 kids on the field stopped practicing to watch. Two kickoffs later the coaches told Janikowski he was on the team.
He made 9 of 15 field goals that fall and was recruited by Florida, Miami, Michigan, Penn State and Tennessee, among others. Florida State was late to join the chase. With redshirt Bill Gramatica on scholarship, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden wasn't interested in signing another kicker. After watching tape of Janikowski's high school games, though, he couldn't get the young kicker's name on the dotted line fast enough.
Janikowski says he signed with the school because he was impressed by Bowden. He began the season as the backup kicker because he lacked experience, but Bowden used him sparingly in the first four games and named him the starter after the win over Miami. (Gramatica dropped his classes and left campus in a huff.) Bowden appreciates Janikowski's overall athletic ability and quick grasp of the game. "Janikowski would be an excellent linebacker or tight end," Bowden says, "if I thought he wouldn't hurt his foot."