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Mount Rushmore Mondays: Which four FSU kicking specialists belong?

Kickers and punters, oh my!

NCAA Football: Virginia at Florida State Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve made it, Tomahawk Nation. The final position group.

To help the offseason pass a bit faster Tomahawk Nation has been putting together a position-by-position Mount Rushmore, chosen by our readers, to determine the top four Seminoles by weighing everything from stats to accomplishments to historical significance.

This week, we’re wrapping up the series by taking a look the position we all know you’ve been itchin’ to get to — kickers and punters.

A reminder of the process — today, we’ll post a poll for the Tomahawk Nation community to choose their top four Seminoles for the week’s position group from our group of nominees. If you feel so inclined, you’ll have the opportunity to throw in any write-ins that didn’t make the initial cut.

On Tuesday, various TN contributors will make their cases in a roundtable format and then finally, we’ll share the final poll results on Wednesday to determine that position’s Mount Rushmore.

Check out a brief description under each player to read more about their accomplishments (alongside selections from our previous series revolving around the top 100 players in FSU history and the top 100 plays), then vote for your top four at the bottom and let us know the reasoning behind your choices in the comments.

Let the debate begin!

Roberto Aguayo

In his three years at FSU, Roberto Aguayo became one of the most successful placekickers in college football history.

When he left Tallahassee, Aguayo held multiple NCAA records including most points kicking in a single season with 157, most extra points made in a season with 94, and is one of a handful of kickers to never miss an extra-point in their college career (minimum of 100 attempts), converting all 198 of his tries.

The majority of these records were obviously set in 2013 with FSU having the most prolific offense in college football history. And while he certainly had an abundance of opportunities, he still had to put the ball through the uprights—and he did, at a school-record 95.5%. That historic season would ultimately see Aguayo win the Lou Groza award, given to the most outstanding kicker in college football.

And while we’re on the topic of the 2013 season, Aguayo’s performance in the National Championship game is often lost in the shuffle because of all of the memorable plays and late drama that game produced. In the biggest game of his career, it was business as usual for the redshirt freshman, who was perfect on the evening, contributing 10 points through four extra points and two field goals, including a 41-yarder in the third quarter that made it a one-possession game.

Raising the crystal ball in 2013 required contributions from all three phases of the game and Aguayo rose to the occasion.

Aguayo continued his success the following year as he was again named a finalist for the Groza award. He nailed a game-winner in sloppy conditions against Boston College (with a major assist on the hold from Cason Beatty):

When all was said and done, Aguayo would earn three consecutive first-team All-American nods and finish his career at FSU second in the school’s history in points behind Dustin Hopkins. It’s likely Aguayo would have broken that record as well, if not for forgoing his senior season in favor of the NFL.

Selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft, Aguayo struggled to maintain his college form with the added pressure of being taken so high. After bouncing around the league over several years, Aguayo is out of football. Despite his disappointing pro career, he will always be a Seminoles legend.

Cason Beatty

Cason Beatty came to FSU from Charlotte, North Carolina as a highly-regarded kicking prospect. He became FSU’s starting punter within weeks of arriving in Tallahassee and started at that position all four years of his career, leaving as a four-year letterman and an integral part of the highest points of the Jimbo Fisher era.

Beatty’s first season was 2012, the prelude to the glorious 2013 campaign. It was the only year in which he averaged less than 41 yards per punt, but he was able to notch a career-high 23 fair catches, all of which came inside the 20-yard line (numbers he would match again only during his senior season).

2013 saw Beatty team up with Roberto Aguayo to form a young but formidable kicking duo. Also serving as Aguayo’s holder, Beatty upped his yards-per-punt average to 41.1 over the season, nearly matching his total punt yardage from the prior year despite five fewer punts. He averaged 42.8 YPP and also helped sell a fake punt in the National Championship game, when FSU trailed Auburn 21-3. The fake worked, and you know the rest.

In 2014, Beatty boomed a career-best 67-yard punt against Virginia. The 2015 campaign saw him raise his average punt yardage to 45.2, and he had a long of 55 yards or greater in six games that year. He had four games in which he averaged 50 yards per punt or higher. His efforts landed him an All-ACC honorable mention.

Beatty is still fourth all-time at FSU in both career punts and career punt yardage, starting 55 games during his Tallahassee tenure. He was an important member of FSU’s last national championship squad, and his accolades are nearly as glorious as his hair.

Bill Capece

FSU’s kick-off man for three seasons, Chaminade High’s own Bill Capece was finally given the opportunity to shine and score some points for the Seminoles during his senior season. What a decision that turned out to be. During his final season with the Tribe, Capece and his unique soccer-style of kicking helped lead the Seminoles to a 10-2 record and a trip to the Orange Bowl.

One game in particular will always stand out when Capece’s name is mentioned, and that’s the showdown against the Pittsburgh Panthers, one of the most talented football team to ever walk into Doak Campbell Stadium. Capece was instrumental in FSU’s 36-22 victory over the #3 Panthers— Pitt’s only loss in 1980, a team that also boasted 23 future NFL starters— by hitting five of six field goal attempts and going 3-3 on PATs. That’s right, an incredible offense led by Dan Marino only scored four more points than FSU’s kicker.

In that 1980 season, Capece lead the team in scoring with 104 points and did not suffer a single blocked kick. Time and again, he used his talented toe to help put away opponents in clutch spots. He was typically reliable when the team got inside midfield, making 22 of 30 field goal attempts and going a perfect 38-38 on extra points.

His outstanding season earned him 1st team All-American status from The Sporting News and 2nd team All-American honors from Football News and UPI. Capece parlayed his success into a stint in the NFL, spending three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was elected into the FSU Hall of Fame in 1990.

Gary Cismesia

The big leg out of Bradenton, Gary Cismesia got his first collegiate taste of kicking duties in the last three games of his freshman year in 2004, going a perfect 5-5 against Duke in his first game in garnet and gold. Cismesia finished the year a promising 7-9 on field goals and perfect 4-4 on PATs. He’d go on to start the next 39 games for the Seminoles from 2005-2007.

Cismesia, nicknamed “Weed’’ when he was 5 by his father because of how fast he was growing, never had a field goal average below 70% during any of his four seasons in Tallahassee. In an era when FSU’s offense was not known for being particularly potent, Cismesia was heavily relied upon to keep the ‘Noles in numerous contests.

Weed’s senior season in 2007 brought him ACC specialist of the week honors against both Miami and UF, the latter of which watched as Cismesia boomed a career-high 60-yard kick through the uprights. It was the longest in the nation that year and the then-longest kick in ACC history. He went a perfect 9-9 on field goal attempts against the Hurricanes and Gators that season, though the Seminoles lost both contests.

Cismesia was often a bright spot during a difficult stretch for Florida State. He was named a 2nd team All-American by Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, 3rd team All-American by College Football News, and All-ACC 2nd team in 2007.

The Weed still ranks sixth all-time with both 65 made FGs and a career 74.7% made field goal percentage.

Graham Gano

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 still 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. 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. Funny enough, he signed with the Giants in 2020, where he still kicks today.

Gano remains FSU’s all-time leader in career field goal percentage at 92.3%, hitting 24 of 26 attempts in 2008. Despite only kicking for one season, Gano finished second in career 50-yard field goals at FSU behind two-time Lou Groza Award winner Sebastian Janikowski.

All told, his versatility and success at kicker and punter places him in legendary status.

Dustin Hopkins

FSU’s all-time leader, and fourth all-time in college football history, in field goals with 88, Dustin Hopkins also boasts the fourth-best conversion percentage with 78.6%. He improved each season, from 70% as a freshman to topping 80% in both his junior and senior seasons.

Hopkins came to Tallahassee from Houston, Texas, as the consensus #1 kicking recruit in the nation. He would justify that ranking by earning starting kicker responsibilities immediately, never relinquishing that role every time he stepped foot on the field. For a team needing to replace an incredible kicker in Graham Gano, Hopkins’ arrival was most welcome.

As a sophomore, Hopkins cemented his place in FSU lore on November 13, 2010. The Seminoles had trailed the Clemson Tigers the entire day but engineered a 4th quarter comeback. Tied at 13 with less than a minute remaining, FSU quickly got into Clemson territory, setting up a 55-yard field goal attempt.

With 3 seconds remaining, Hopkins became a hero:

Hopkins would make 22 field goals that season, hitting 22 again as a junior and then 25 as a senior. All three single-season totals are in the top eight for FSU all-time. After missing four PATs in his freshman season, Hopkins would only ever miss again once the next three years, making 145 in a row and going 202 for 203 overall.

He was extremely reliable for the Seminoles during the transitional years leading up to the 2013 run to the national championship. Jimbo Fisher and special teams coach Eddie Gran knew that they could count on Hopkins when things got tight, as evidenced in the amount of attempts he was given during his last two seasons.

His 466 career points were an NCAA record when he left Tallahassee, and are still 10th-best in NCAA history today. Hopkins would be chosen in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, joining fellow FSU teammates EJ Manuel and Shawn Powell. He’d go on to kick for the Saints, Redskins, and Chargers, where he still plays today.

Sebastian Janikowski

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 Kerry 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.

Janikowski did 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 converted 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. He also kept the Seminoles’ march to the wire-to-wire championship alive with a winning kick against Clemson:

Against Virginia 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 Powderkeg was a one of a kind football player and has all the accomplishments and legacy to vouch for it.

Sean Liss:

The mid-1990’s was one hell of a time to be a FSU fan, but not exactly the best time to be a Seminoles punter. With offenses led by the likes of Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell, and Thad Busby, punts weren’t exactly a common sight for the Tribe. Keeping that in mind, we’ll forgive you if you aren’t familiar with Sean Liss.

After redshirting in 1992, Liss became the starting punter in FSU’s 1993 championship season. But with FSU’s 1993 and 1994 offenses putting up outstanding numbers, Liss only booted a combined 66 punts in two years. Liss struggled with the anonymity of his role.

“I really couldn’t find an identity,” said Liss in a 1996 interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “I was trying to do my best and nobody seemed to notice me. I would sit back and get frustrated with a lot of things and I would try to kick too hard and mess up.”

To make things worse, he injured his left ankle midway through his freshman year in 1993 against Wake Forest. He sat out the next game and was bothered by the ankle for the rest of the season, though he still helped FSU to its first national championship. The bad luck continued as a sophomore, when he suffered a pulled groin in a collision with a Georgia Tech player and missed three more games.

Things started looking up in 1995, though. The redshirt-junior had 49 punts and made improvements on his punt placement. He showed off his strong leg by averaging 47 YPP or higher in four different games, but also played an important role in pinning opponents deep. His 43.9-yard average was good for fifth nationally and was the best average at FSU since All-American Rohn Stark set the benchmark at 46 yards in 1981.

Liss came into his own in the 1996 season. It was great timing for the Seminoles, as the offense uncharacteristically sputtered that year as the rebuilt offensive line gradually gelled with Busby. Liss surpassed his output from the first two years combined, booting 61 punts for 2670 yards, an average of 43.8 YPP. Including the bowl game, Liss only had one game in which his longest punt was below 50 yards. His longest came against Miami, a remarkable 76-yarder, and he had three other punts of 61+ yards that season. He routinely kicked the ball so deep that opponents rarely started with advantageous field position, one reason why Florida State’s outstanding 1996 defense didn’t allow many long drives or points that season.

Liss was named to All-ACC teams in 1995 and 1996. In ‘96, he also earned All-American honorable mentions from the AP and UPI. His career average of 42.9 yards per punt still ranks second all-time at FSU.

Shawn Powell:

Looking at Shawn Powell off the bus, you’d think he was a tight end with his 6’4”, 230 pound frame. The specialist from Rome, Georgia, turned out to be a four-year letterman and one of the most important, if not under-appreciated, players in the beginning of the Jimbo Fisher era. He combined with kicker Dustin Hopkins to make an outstanding specialist tandem.

Powell immediately saw the field for FSU and would go on to start 51 games over four seasons at punter and as a holder on kicks. He steadily improved every year under the tutelage of special teams coach Eddie Gran, gradually upping his average yards per punt and punts inside the 20 yard line in each season. He played a key role in holding kicks for Dustin Hopkins, FSU’s most prolific field goal kicker, and had a knack for turning poor snaps into prime placements.

Powell captured national attention during his senior year in 2011 when he averaged 47.0 yards on 57 punts and landed 23 punts inside the opposing 20 yard line (14 of those were downed inside the 10). Incredibly, he averaged over 50 yards per punt in four different contests that season, including a monster game against the Miami Hurricanes where he averaged a career-high 54.8 yards on five punts. He also boomed a career-high 69 yard punt against Oklahoma that season. His performance earned him NCAA Consensus All-American status as well as first team All-ACC honors. His 47.0 is the best season average in school history.

Over his career, Powell had 168 punts for 7424 yards for an average of 44.2 yards per punt. That 44.2 career average is still the best in FSU history. He had 56 punts downed inside the opposing 20 yard line. Powell was also a perfect 1-1 as a passer, throwing a completion for 33 yards against Maryland on a trick play.

Powell played two years in the NFL. He teamed up with Dustin Hopkins and EJ Manuel for the Buffalo Bills m, and later had a stint with the Cincinnati Bengals. Though his professional career didn’t pan out like his college years, Powell remains one of the best specialists to come through Tallahassee.

Derek Schmidt

Derek Schmidt rewrote the Florida State record books as the Seminoles’ kicker from 1984-1987. When Schmidt graduated in 1987, he left as Florida State’s all-time leading scorer and had set the NCAA all-time record with 393 career points.

Schmidt led Florida State in scoring in each of his four seasons as a Seminole. As a sophomore, Schmidt was selected to the All-South Independent and All-Metro Conference team and received Associated Press and UPI All-American honorable mention. In 1986, he made 108 consecutive PATs, was named to the All-South Independent Second Team, and earned Associated Press All-American honorable mention.

As a senior on the loaded 1987 squad that started the Dynasty era, Schmidt proved indispensable to the Seminoles’ efforts. He was second in the country in scoring and was named Associated Press Third Team All-American. Schmidt set several records at Florida State, including the longest field goal of 54 yards, most field goals made with 73, best career field goal percentage at 70.2 percent, most PATs made with 174, and most consecutive PATs with 108.

Though many of Schmidt’s records have since been broken (he is a bit hampered by bowl stats not being included), his name still shows up in many a category and he remains among FSU’s finest field goal kickers. He was elected into the FSU hall of fame in 1997.

Rohn Stark

One of the greatest all-around athletes ever to wear the garnet and gold, Rohn Stark transferred to Florida State in 1978. In his four years he re-wrote the FSU record book in punting and was elected to the FSU Hall of Fame in 1986.

By the time his eligibility expired, Stark had the most career punts for FSU with 244, most career punt yardage with 10418 yards, the highest season average, 46.0 in 1981, and the highest career average, with 42.7 yards per punt. He still owns the record for career punts and total yards.

Stark’s talent was apparent early in his Seminole career. In his third career game, he boomed a 72-yard punt against the Miami Hurricanes. What many folks may not know is that when the football season was finished, Rohn Stark became FSU’s finest decathlon athlete in the spring. In 1979, he won the championship in the decathlon in the Metro Conference.

Stark’s magnificent performance against Pitt in 1980 was the most brilliant punting exhibition ever seen in Doak Campbell Stadium to that point. He had seven punts for a 48.1 average, only giving up 13 return yards for a net punting average of 46.2. It was crucial toward keeping a lethal Panthers offense pinned in during a massive upset by the Seminoles.

His best single game was his last as a Seminole, against Florida in 1981 when he averaged 54.8 yards on six punts. Some might argue that Stark was the only one who showed up on FSU’s side that day in a 32-point loss to UF.

Rohn Stark was a team captain in 1981 and was named 1st team All-American in 1980 and 1981 by multiple sites. Following his graduation from FSU, he became one of the greatest punters in the NFL. Stark’s soaring punts made number 3 a potent weapon and gave the Seminoles the best kicking game in the nation.

Who are the top four FSU kicking specialists of all time?

Previous results

Quarterbacks: Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke, Jameis Winston, Jordan Travis

Running Backs: Warrick Dunn, Dalvin Cook, Greg Allen, Amp Lee

Wide Receivers: Peter Warrick, Fred Biletnikoff, Rashad Greene, Ron Sellers

Tight Ends: Nick O’Leary, Pat Carter, Lonnie Johnson, Melvin Pearsall

Offensive Tackles: Walter Jones, Alex Barron, Pat Tomberlin, Cam Erving

Interior Offensive Linemen: Rodney Hudson, Jamie Dukes, Bryan Stork, Clay Shiver

Defensive Ends: Peter Boulware, Andre Wadsworth, Reinard Wilson, Derrick Alexander

Defensive Tackles: Ron Simmons, Darnell Dockett, Corey Simon, Timmy Jernigan

Linebackers: Derrick Brooks, Marvin Jones, Sam Cowart, Paul McGowan

Cornerbacks: Terrell Buckley, Deion Sanders, Corey Sawyer, Bobby Butler

Safeties: Leroy Butler, Jalen Ramsey, Lamarcus Joyner, Derwin James