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January 19, 2005
Charlie Armstrong said he had it easy the last few years with his kicking and punting teams.
He just turned it all over to Graham Gano.
"He's the best I've ever been around," said Armstrong, the head football coach at Gonzalez Tate High, which is roughly 15 miles northwest of Pensacola.
Gano will get a chance to showcase his skills at Florida State next year. But whether he does it as a kicker or punter remains to be seen. Gano is one of 12 players who has verbally committed to the Seminoles. He took his official visit to FSU last weekend and does not plan to take any additional visits.
"He's got plenty of confidence," Armstrong said. "I think he always liked Florida State and I know people have poked fun at him and said 'that Florida State kicker jinx' is going to get him. But I think he said it didn't worry Janikowski and it's not going to worry him."
Gano has plenty of reasons to be confident.
He kicked a state-best 65-yarder this season to give Tate a 10-7 lead against rival Fort Walton Beach. He also kicked a 64-yarder later in the season and added a game-winning 58-yarder in the final minute to help Tate score a victory over Mobile (Ala.) Blunt.
It's kind of hard to figure out which is more impressive - the fact that Gano actually kicked two field goals from 60-plus yards or the fact that Armstrong actually let him attempt those kicks.
"In practice, he kicks them from 70 yards," said Armstrong, whose father (Charlie) was the first baseball coach in FSU history. "High school rules in Florida say if he kicks a field goal in the end zone, they can't bring it out. It's a touchback. And I knew he'd at least get them in the end zone.
"We called it our 'Hail Mary field goal.' "
Gano adds more than a strong leg for placement kicks. He was also his school's punter the last two seasons and averaged more than 42 yards per punt as a senior.
Armstrong said Gano has no preference on whether he will start his FSU career as a kicker or punter.
"By the time he's a senior, I think he'd like to do all of it," Armstrong said. "But if all he does is kickoff or punt his first year, then that's fine with him. He'll get an opportunity to compete and it's probably kind of rough for a freshman to handle all of that anyway."
Gano earned first-team All-America honors from USA Today as a kicker.
He was one for two in 50-yard field goal attempts in the recent CaliFlorida All-Star game. But Armstrong said FSU coaches, specifically Mickey Andrews (who recruited him), wanted to make sure Gano could compete as a punter before offering him a scholarship.
"He went to camp last summer at FSU and they got to see him," Armstrong said. "They knew he could kick and Coach Andrews had seen him kick before. But Coach Andrews wanted to make sure he could punt.
"He has great hang time. He gets it off quickly and he makes the snapper look good."
Of course, Armstrong said Gano has two other attributes that should make him a solid fit in the FSU program.
The first one is shown on the field.
"He was an all-state soccer player as a junior," said Armstrong, a 1976 graduate of Florida State. "He is a pure athlete. A lot of kickers go into kicking because they can't do anything else. This guy ran a 4.4 in the 40 and ran the 60 in 6.3. He's an athlete and he can play just about anywhere on the field for us."
The second comes off the field.
"He's a great kid," Armstrong said. "I'd take him home with me. If something were to ever happen, he's the type of kid I'd adopt. He's that good to be around."
Armstrong said Gano, who also considered Central Florida, Southern Miss and Auburn, is fully qualified.
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