TALLAHASSEE — When it comes to taking the full measure of kicker Graham Gano, take a moment to glance at his right hand. On each knuckle he has written a single letter or symbol:
The senior missed the first two games of the season after he had surgery on his right knee in August. Just when his knee started feeling better, a groin injury necessitated shots so he could play.
"With all the pains I've been having, I sometimes get down on myself," he said. "Sometimes, I'll see some people coming to fan day or something and they'll be in wheelchairs and love football and I'm complaining about all this stuff, and they can't even play football. Or the wounded soldiers (who were honored at last weekend's game); they're loving it. And a lot of them lost limbs. My brother was in Iraq and just hearing things he talks about puts it in reality."
The hand writing is there to remind him of that.
Gano has fought through his discomfort and helped the Seminoles (6-1, 3-1) take control of their fate in the ACC's Atlantic Division and reach No. 16 in the polls entering Saturday's game at Georgia Tech (6-2, 3-2).
After missing his first field goal of the year and the first of his collegiate career, a 52-yarder against Wake Forest, he has hit a school-record 13 straight. He's also made a field goal of 50-plus yards in four straight games, a first at FSU. He's 14 of 14 on PATs and, last weekend against Virginia Tech, he punted for the first time this season and averaged 51.7 yards.
"Golly, I can't believe what he's been doing," coach Bobby Bowden gushed. "He's just really kicking that ball good."
He knew Gano could punt; he averaged 42.1 yards the last two years. But no one could have guessed that Gano, whose father served in the military for three decades (Gano was born in Scotland, lived in Newfoundland and Germany and dreamed of playing professional soccer), could be having this kind of success.
He struggled mightily in the spring, more consumed with trying to "crush" kicks than placing them between the uprights. But he spent time at a Ray Guy camp this past summer and learned quite a bit from former Troy K Greg Whibbs and former Cincinnati K Jonathan Ruffin, the Groza Award winner in 2000. Gano couldn't put that to use after he tore the meniscus in his knee.
"I think it's helped me out more than it hurt me having the surgery," he said. "I've tried to be smoother with my motion and just try to hit the ball in the right spot and get my plant foot in the right spot; just be fluid with it."
He has and, before you ask, he hasn't written F-L-U-I-D on his left knuckles.
That's where he has his girlfriend's initials.
Exclusive club: Since joining the ACC in 1992, FSU has played Georgia Tech 12 times. It has beaten Georgia Tech 12 times. The only ACC team that is winless against FSU in that time is Duke. For the record, FSU is 16-0 against the Blue Devils since 1992. (FSU hasn't played the Yellow Jackets since 2003.)
In 1992, Bowden envisioned that Georgia Tech and Clemson would become "natural rivalries" given their close proximity to Tallahassee. But neither would be until they started beating the Seminoles.
"Georgia Tech, we've been able to beat them but we haven't played them lately," Bowden said. "You can imagine what they're thinking. They want to break that streak."
He said it: "I think it makes other teams respect us a little more. In years past when we weren't ranked, some people were saying, 'Florida State's not what they used to be.' But now they have to respect us because of what we've done so far." — TE Caz Piurowski.
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.