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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
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December 20, 1999

Big Foot

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

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Smitten with the intensity of football in the South, Janikowski signed with the Seminoles even after scoring 69 goals in 24 games in soccer and attracting scholarship offers from schools that would allow him to play both sports. He has caught on quickly to the subtle—and not so subtle—rhythms of football, ripping himself after failing to convert field goals ("He missed a couple [against Wake Forest] and acted as if he'd let the whole team down even though we won by 23 points," says Whitaker) and acting cool in the face of pressure. In the third quarter of the Seminoles' 30-23 victory over Florida, Janikowski was called on to try a 49-yarder. As the kicking team waited to take the field, Janikowski turned first to Ingram, looked into his eyes and taunted him. "You scare?" he said, dropping the d, as always, because of his accent. Then he whirled on holder Marcus Outzen and said, "Just spin the f———ball, O.K.?" Outzen always spins the ball laces away, perfectly. It was Janikowski's way of keeping everybody loose. He made the kick and, after a delay-of-game penalty moved the ball back five yards, pounded it through again, from 54 yards, tying the game 16-16. Then he mocked the Gators fans' chomping motion, just for fun.

Sometimes Janikowski, a sports management major, has too much fun. His indifference to schoolwork and his difficulties with English have put him on the verge of flunking out of Florida State more than once. "I had to bust my ass last spring and summer to play this year," he says. His nocturnal habits haven't helped. In August 1998 Janikowski got into a fight outside a Tallahassee bar. He was charged with failure to leave the premises and pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor. Three months later he was involved in a fight at another bar. "He's a big, tough guy, and people like to challenge him," says Outzen. "We try to make sure somebody is with him when he goes out." Bowden has told Janikowski to walk away from fights, but that's not always easy.

"He drinks too much and eats too much; I worry about him," says Rossi.

"When someone says 'vodka,' his eyes light up," says Cejka, "but he can handle it."

Janikowski claims that's all behind him now. "I'm more grown up," he says. "Sure, I got drunk and got into fights, but I was younger. I drink less now; I say no. My life is moving on, and I realize what I can have."

What he wants most is to bring his mother to the U.S., and that's the primary reason for his early departure to the NFL, because once he starts making pro football dollars he'll be able to give Halina the financial sponsorship the U.S. government requires. She visited him for three months in 1997, but immigration officials would not allow her to stay longer, and they haven't seen each other since. "I've never had a mother and a father at the same time," he says. "I would like to have both."

The next months will throw a heavy load on Janikowski: help Florida State win the national tide, continue to grow up, begin an NFL career and bring his mother to the U.S. That is much to ask of a single leg. But his is no ordinary limb. "It is something he was given at birth," says Rossi. "It's a gift."

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