Janikowski struck the ball with a thud, sending his kicks so high it was difficult to tell at times whether the ball went through or not. Spring practice stalled for a moment as the players stopped to take a look at the bald kid with the accent, who was blasting the football like some Polish Paul Bunyan.
”Every time he kicked one, it sounded like somebody fired a gun out there,” Seabreeze coach Kerry Kramer said. “We had 115, 120 kids out on the practice field, and it got so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. As soon as he kicked, everybody just kind of looked at each other.”
Seabreeze’s Janikowski has an amazing left leg, Orlando Sentinel
Sebastian Janikowski arrived in Daytona Beach, Fla. his senior year from Poland, a soccer player who never once had tried to kick a diamond-shaped ball through a yellow post. He showed up one day at Seabreeze High School, curious and eager to try his foot at the sport.
“I was learning as I went,” said Janikowski in 2018. “I couldn’t even figure out how to put shoulder pads on.”
“It was basically, ‘Kick it through that big H down there,’” said Kramer, his high school coach, “and he understood that.”
As the story goes, Janikowski was cranking field goals one day in practice, moving five yards back with each punishing wallop.
Granted, there was no pass rush and no crowd noise, the high-school football is smaller and lighter, and he hit the ball off of a tee, which usually adds some extra distance. The wind may have also played a factor. (The school was named Seabreeze, after all.)
Still, the fact remains, a 210-pound high-school senior and recently converted soccer player kicked an 82-yard field goal through the big H at the end of the field.
In a single season at Seabreeze, “Seabass” was born.
“It was only one year,” Kramer said. “But, man oh man, what a year.
Within his first few weeks of playing football he had hit 53 and 60-yard field goals, nearly converting a 65-yarder, and colleges were instantly infatuated. He’d receive offers from Miami, Florida, Michigan and Tennessee, as well as ones to play professional soccer, but instead he opted for Tallahassee, where he’d aim to change the kicker legacy of a school constantly burdened by them.
He’d do more than that, becoming more and more of a legend with each successive, booming kick. He earned a reputation for his specific pastimes, with multiple feature stories spanning decades mentioning his love of buffets and pool halls. He was a hulking prospect, bald by choice to honor a childhood friend who died in a car accident, large by choice because he loved eating food. A two-time Lou Groza Award winner, he’d be named an All-American each year at Florida State, first as part of the Sporting News freshman team in 1997 and then on multiple teams after, with 1999 seeing him recognized as a unanimous selection.
In the three years leading up to his swan song, the 1999 title game vs. Virginia Tech, Janikowski covered 65 of 83 field goal attempts (78.3%), four of which were longer than 50 yards. 57 of his 83 kickoffs were touchbacks, with four going 75 yards through the uprights at the opposite end of the field. His 27 field goals in 1998 are still tied for first in Florida State school history.
Against Tech, he’d go five-for-five on extra points, tacking on a modest 32-yarder to effectively help put the game out of reach, earning a title and helping put a bow on an illustrious college career. He had made his intentions of leaving for the draft early clear prior to the game, and as a result, was one of the more intriguing prospects to have ever entered into the NFL’s annual selection pool (he could bench 395 pounds, and reportedly run a 4.6 40 with a 33-inch vertical.)
The result was a first round selection by the Oakland Raiders (No. 17) in 2000, where he’d play for 17 years (before spending his last year in Seattle), attempting a 76-yarder in one game and then hitting a then-NFL record 63-yarder in another (after hitting a 70-yarder in pregame warmups):
Janikowski got to play in one Super Bowl in his time in Oakland, but it’s for more than that why he’ll be remembered as an icon of the game. A hulking mass with a leg to match, the Polish Paul Bunyan was a one of a kind football player and has all the accomplishments and legacy to vouch for it.