This preseason, the Ravens are in a kicking battle to decide who will be their starting kicker come Week 1 of the regular season when they face the New York Jets on Monday Night Football September 13th.
It will either be Shayne Graham, a Pro-Bowler in his own right, or Billy Cundiff, a kicker who came into the fold mid-season last winter and stabilized the kicking position.
This is the second straight year the Ravens have had an open competition to decide who will be their kicker, and last year it was the battle between two ex-ACC kickers in Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano, who was the Lou Groza Award Winner in 2008, the award given to the NCAA’s best kicker.
Hauschka won the job out of training camp last August because Gano, who appeared on “The Afternoon Drive” with Rex Snider Thursday, seemed to be the lesser of two evils at the end of camp.
Gano admitted to Snider that his head was spinning a little bit just trying to impress the coaching staff here in Baltimore trying to earn a spot on the team.
“Last year when I came into Baltimore, I was learning a lot,” Gano said. “I wasn’t a very developed kicker. I went in learning a lot, and I had a lot to learn.”
He had an impressive resume at Florida State, where during his one year as kicker for the Seminoles, he kicked better than 90% of his field goals(24-26), led the ACC in scoring, and was named a first-team All-American by the AP and Sporting News.
But Gano couldn’t transfer that success to the Ravens in camp, and the Ravens released the rookie.
After the Ravens released Gano, who was invited to camp as a rookie free agent, Gano signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL, which was in its first season.
Gano put his mark on the recently-created UFL, as he not only scored the game-winning field goal in the championship game of the league; he also scored the league’s first points and has the longest field goal (53 yards) in the history of the league.
Those numbers drew the attention of NFL teams yet again to Gano, and the Redskins signed Gano in December of last year after UFL players were allowed to sign with NFL squads.
Now he will suit up against his old team when the Ravens travel to Landover to take on the Redskins in preseason action at 7pm on Saturday.
“After they released me, I had the chance to go to the UFL and really develop my kicking game,” Gano said. “When the Redskins picked me up last year, I was a completely different kicker than I was in Baltimore. Both teams do a great job with their special teams, and I’m looking forward to the game on Saturday.”
Gano really cherished the opportunity he had with the Locomotives because it gave him the chance to have fun with football yet again.
“The UFL really helped me out last year as far as developing and getting my confidence back after being released from the Ravens,” Gano said. “When I did get my opportunity with the Redskins, I know that I wouldn’t have been prepared if I didn’t have the opportunity in Las Vegas.”
Gano hopes that his story can be an example of how effective the UFL can be at being like a developmental league for the NFL.
“The talent in the UFL is very good…it was really good competition. Hopefully it will keep growing and giving more and more guys the opportunity to make the NFL.”
Now, Gano said he is very comfortable and relaxed kicking for the Redskins, and for the first time in his football career, he is just having fun playing football.
“When I started kicking at Florida State, I would get a little nervous going out for a big kick or a long field goal. Now, its just a lot of fun to me. I have a good time. Even when I run out on the field, I’ll be laughing and just having a good time out there.”
Gano said that his mental strength now may be a bigger asset to him now as opposed to his leg strength.
“I think that’s just what keeps me so focused and so calm. I don’t have any worries when I go out there and kick. I know that I’ve practiced so many times in practice, and in my mind at practice. I’ve put myself through so many situations, when the kicks do come in a game like that…I’m already prepared and I think that’s what helps me out.”
And even when the fans are blaring now, Gano is still having fun. In fact, it fuels him even more.
“I could try and practice as much as possible, and try and simulate it, but when you step out on the field and you have all those fans screaming at an away game, its a lot different. But that’s what makes it fun, and thats what I live for. I live for those opportunities.”
Gano actually keeps in touch with his former teammate and “rival” in Hauschka, who is now in a similar situation as Gano after being cut by the Atlanta Falcons a week ago.
Now the roles are switched, as Gano has an NFL kicking job and Hauschka is unemployed. But Gano knows Hauschka will have the same determination he had in trying to get back in the NFL.
And actually, even though Hauschka took a career in Baltimore away from Gano, Gano was probably one of Hasuchka’s biggest fans.
“I still keep in touch with Steve. I was talking with him the other day. Throughout the season, I still kept in touch with him. I was wishing him the best of luck, and I know that it was hard times for him.”
“That’s the thing…it could be one or two kicks that make or break your career, and he was unfortunate to experience that those two games. I still think he’s a great kicker, and hopefully he’ll get picked up somewhere and have a great career. I felt bad for him those two misses.”
Keep an eye out for Gano on Saturday when the Redskins take on the Ravens on Saturday at 7. And while we will be watching him from afar, Gano is just trying to get ready for Week 1 when the Skins take on the Cowboys.
“I think we’re going to have a great year,” Gano said. “The guys have really been working hard, and the coaches brought in a lot of good players to help our team get better.”
“We had a great first preseason game, but the tests are really going to start when we face Dallas in the first regular season game. I think everybody on the team is focused and ready to go, and we’re just preparing for that game.”
Big Thanks To Graham Gano for joining us on WNST and We Wish Him The Best in Washington…except on Saturday! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!