Panthers kicker Graham Gano has been one of the team’s stalwarts during the past two playoff seasons. Known for having one of the strongest legs in the NFL, Gano, 28, has led the league in touchback percentage the past two seasons. He missed only three field goals in 2013 (24 for 27) and had six misses (29 for 35) in 2014, mostly from long range. The Panthers have Gano under contract through 2017 – and he made all 10 of his field-goal attempts in preseason.
Never fond of the “quirky kicker” reputation attached to many of his cohorts around the league, Gano likes to be considered one of the guys. He and his wife have two boys, ages 4 and 1 1/2. I asked Gano five questions on the eve of the Panthers’ season.
Q. You spend a lot of time doing other things besides kicking in practice. How many kicks do you actually take on a normal day?
A. In high school and college, my leg felt like rubber. I could kick a ton of footballs. ... But I try to exert full force in every kick. Normally, I don’t want to go over 40 kicks in a day.
And that’s doing it every other day. A lot of guys mess with me and say I could do that every day. But I compare it to pitching. If it’s a 20-yard field goal or a 60-yard field goal, it’s the same swing for me.
If Brad (Nortman, the Panthers punter) and I aren’t kicking, we use the foam rollers or stretch or get a light workout on the field. But there’s only so much of that you can do. So sometimes we just sit around and watch practice. And guys mess with us about that, of course.
Q. You have had a strong exhibition season and look healthy after fighting a back injury last year. How did 2014 go for you?
A. It was a good year, but not where I wanted it to be statistically. I think my percentage was 82, and we shoot for 90 percent. My misses averaged about 49 yards, so that’s a lot of long misses, but still. Kickoff-wise, it was a good year for touchbacks (Gano’s kickoffs weren’t returned 77.2 percent of the time; no other regular NFL kicker eclipsed 71 percent).
Q. The NFL record for longest field goal ever is 64 yards, set by Matt Prater in 2013 in Denver’s high altitude. I know you once hit a 75-yard field goal in Denver when you were just practicing. What do you believe is the likelihood that you will ever set the NFL record for longest field goal?
A. If we happen to go for a long one, I feel comfortable from 65 to 75 yards. But realistically you’re going to get a chance at maybe one of those a year.
I think it’s something everybody wishes for – to say you have the longest field goal in NFL history – but the timing has to be perfect. The whole operation, really – offensive line, snap, hold kick – it’s all got to be perfect on one of those. But it is possible.
Q. Your Wikipedia entry has a lot of mentions of the times you ran in the 100, 200 and 400 in high school in Florida, and some of them are pretty darn good. Is that part of the entry a joke or is it real?
A. Oh, it’s true. Charles Johnson just came up to me in the locker room right before the interview and said, ‘What’s up with Madden? Your speed is the same as mine (on the video game).’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s wrong. I should be a lot faster than you.’
Charles looked at me like I was crazy, but I started telling him my track stats. I told him I could go out there and run a 4.5 40 right now. Of course, everybody gets defensive over that. So Ryan Kalil looked up my high school times online and said, ‘Yeah, he’s right.’
My best event was the 400. But the year I was favored to win the states, I false-started in the regionals, and the rule was one false start and you’re done. I wasn’t at the same level in the 100 and 200.
But I think I could run high 4.5s in the 40 now, although nobody wants to think the kicker is faster than them. (Laughs) Charles was pretty hurt by that.
Q. You recovered a fumble last year. But in general you’re not exactly charging down on kickoffs intent on jumping into a pile, are you?
A. I’m always in the vicinity – we call it an ITV.
For Brad and me, they don’t really want us in there hitting people. For one we’re really not used to doing that, these other guys are doing it every day. And the guy we’re hitting is probably a lot bigger than we are. If I have to stick my head in there, I’m able to, but not trying to. Ideally we just want to be around, picking up another ITV.