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When Kansas State's Martin Gramatica lined up for a 65-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half of what would be a 73-7 rout of Northern Illinois on Sept. 12, William Gramatica stood transfixed in front of his television in La Belle, Fla., as his wife, Laura, fled the house. "She couldn't watch, and I couldn't breathe," says William. Though their son was attempting what would be the longest field goal ever kicked in college or the pros without a tee (the use of which was banned by the NCAA in 1989), you would think Laura and William would have known better than to get nervous. After all, Wildcats fans don't call Martin "Automatica" just to be cute.
Even before Martin, a 5'9" senior who moved to the U.S. with his family from Buenos Aires in 1984, made history by hitting the 65-yarder, he had made his mark at Kansas State with his consistency. After sitting out the 1996 season with a torn ACL in his right (kicking) leg, he had a banner year in '97, making 19 of 20 field goals—including three of more than 50 yards—and 37 of 38 extra points. He became only the fourth Wildcat to be named an All-America and the first to win a major honor, earning the Lou Groza award as the best placekicker in college.
That's not bad for a guy who had hit just three of nine field goals from beyond 30 yards—with a long of 40 yards—in his first two seasons. "The knee rehab made me stronger and more confident," says Gramatica, who has converted six of nine field goal tries and 30 of 31 PATs this season. "Now, no matter what the distance, I treat every field goal attempt as though it were an extra point."
It should be noted that he treats every extra point as though it were a World Cup-winning goal. After each successful kick, Gramatica leaps into the arms of his holder, James Garcia, then jumps down and dances around the field. "He doesn't do that for himself—he does it because he has helped the team," says Wildcats coach Bill Snyder, adding that when Gramatica uncharacteristically missed two field goals in Kansas State's 35-18 Fiesta Bowl win over Syracuse last New Year's Eve, "it cut him to the quick. It was like seeing a child lose a dog."
"When I miss," says Gramatica, "I feel I'm letting the team and my family down."
Indeed, placekicking has been a Gramatica family passion. Both of Martin's younger brothers are kickers: Bill, who transferred from Florida State to South Florida last season, kicked a 44-yard, game-winning field goal against Liberty on Sept. 19, and 15-year-old Santiago has connected from 49 yards while kicking for fun on Kansas State's field.
Martin credits the family's kicking success in part to an unusual backyard fixture: a set of goalposts his father put up on the Gramaticas' 15-acre farm a few years ago. The uprights, two feet narrower than regulation, stand between a soccer pitch and a cow pasture—"My sons should never complain about bad field conditions," says William, a restaurateur—and are defended on one side by a 10-foot-high bush that approximates a leaping blocker.
It's a perfect setup for a perfectionist like Martin, whose goals extend beyond helping the Wildcats win. "I'm trying," he says, "to make it easy for my family to watch."