For the first time in this countdown the player being featured took the field for special teams plays only. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have an impact on both offense and defense.
Born in Scotland, Graham Gano matriculated to Florida State by way of J.M. Tate high school in Cantonment, Florida (near Pensacola). Gano’s high school career was anything but ordinary, with his booming leg earning him a USA Today first-team All-American selection. Not just a weapon on the football field, Gano also was a standout sprinter. In fact, he was a part of three state-title winning track and field teams, with Gano winning the 3A District 1 100 meter dash with a time of 10.55.
Despite his high school accomplishments, Gano began his FSU career strictly as a punter. Gary “The Weed” Cismesia handled the placekicking duties Gano’s first three years on campus, finishing as a Lou Groza award semi-finalist in 2006 and 2007, leading some to be worried about replacing the departing Cismesia heading into the 2008 season. Those concerns were magnified when Gano tore the meniscus in his right knee just a couple weeks before the season. With Zach Hobby going just 1-4 on field goals in the first two games of the season, what was FSU going to do?
Gano to the rescue.
Becoming the first player in 33 years to handle place kicking, punting, and kickoff duties for Bobby Bowden, Gano overcame the knee injury and turned in a season for the ages.
All-American? Check. Highest scoring kicker in college football? Check. ACC leader in field goals made, including not a single miss from inside 50 yards? Check. Average nearly 43 yards a punt, including landing 36% of your punts inside the opponent’s 20 yard line? Check.
Add it all up and the result was Gano becoming the second Seminole to win the Lou Groza award that recognizes the nation’s best kicker.
The season featured a number of highlights for the nearly automatic kicker. Among them were his game sealing field goals late in the fourth quarter of back to back games against NC State (53 yards) and Virginia Tech (46 yards). Both kicks gave FSU two-possession leads with 2:14 or less to play.
During the course of the year, Gano made five consecutive 50+ yard attempts, including one in four consecutive games. The five FGs from more than 50 yards is an FSU single-season record.
But perhaps his biggest highlight of the season, indeed his career, came during the first quarter of the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin. With FSU struggling to get going offensively, Gano pinned the Badgers inside their own 3 yard line not once, not twice, but three times in the first quarter. Incredibly, Gano didn’t even need his teammates to down any of the punts, instead angling two to sneak out of bounds just before the endzone and getting a third to die like a Brooks Koepka wedge shot on the one yard line.
The Seminoles would go on to blow out Wisconsin 42-13 and Gano’s ridiculous display of punting earned him the Champs Bowl MVP award.
Despite the stellar end to his college career, Gano went undrafted during the 2009 NFL Draft. Undeterred, the Seminole caught on with the Washington Redskins and spent three seasons in D.C. during which time he broke the franchise record for longest field goal with a 59 yarder against the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. The next year he headed south to join the Carolina Panthers, where he still is a standout kicker. In 2017, Gano was named to his first Pro Bowl and in 2018 he set another franchise record, nailing a 63 yard game-winning field goal against the New York Giants.