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Watch Out For This Guy Martin Gramatica, K-State's record-setting placekicker, is a joy to behold

When Kansas State's Martin Gramatica lined up for a 65-yard
field goal attempt at the end of the first half of what would be
a 73-7 rout of Northern Illinois on Sept. 12, William Gramatica
stood transfixed in front of his television in La Belle, Fla.,
as his wife, Laura, fled the house. "She couldn't watch, and I
couldn't breathe," says William. Though their son was attempting
what would be the longest field goal ever kicked in college or
the pros without a tee (the use of which was banned by the NCAA
in 1989), you would think Laura and William would have known
better than to get nervous. After all, Wildcats fans don't call
Martin "Automatica" just to be cute.

Even before Martin, a 5'9" senior who moved to the U.S. with his
family from Buenos Aires in 1984, made history by hitting the
65-yarder, he had made his mark at Kansas State with his
consistency. After sitting out the 1996 season with a torn ACL
in his right (kicking) leg, he had a banner year in '97, making
19 of 20 field goals--including three of more than 50 yards--and
37 of 38 extra points. He became only the fourth Wildcat to be
named an All-America and the first to win a major honor, earning
the Lou Groza award as the best placekicker in college.

That's not bad for a guy who had hit just three of nine field
goals from beyond 30 yards--with a long of 40 yards--in his
first two seasons. "The knee rehab made me stronger and more
confident," says Gramatica, who has converted six of nine field
goal tries and 30 of 31 PATs this season. "Now, no matter what
the distance, I treat every field goal attempt as though it were
an extra point."

It should be noted that he treats every extra point as though it
were a World Cup-winning goal. After each successful kick,
Gramatica leaps into the arms of his holder, James Garcia, then
jumps down and dances around the field. "He doesn't do that for
himself--he does it because he has helped the team," says
Wildcats coach Bill Snyder, adding that when Gramatica
uncharacteristically missed two field goals in Kansas State's
35-18 Fiesta Bowl win over Syracuse last New Year's Eve, "it cut
him to the quick. It was like seeing a child lose a dog."

"When I miss," says Gramatica, "I feel I'm letting the team and
my family down."

Indeed, placekicking has been a Gramatica family passion. Both
of Martin's younger brothers are kickers: Bill, who transferred
from Florida State to South Florida last season, kicked a
44-yard, game-winning field goal against Liberty on Sept. 19,
and 15-year-old Santiago has connected from 49 yards while
kicking for fun on Kansas State's field.

Martin credits the family's kicking success in part to an
unusual backyard fixture: a set of goalposts his father put up
on the Gramaticas' 15-acre farm a few years ago. The uprights,
two feet narrower than regulation, stand between a soccer pitch
and a cow pasture--"My sons should never complain about bad
field conditions," says William, a restaurateur--and are
defended on one side by a 10-foot-high bush that approximates a
leaping blocker.

It's a perfect setup for a perfectionist like Martin, whose
goals extend beyond helping the Wildcats win. "I'm trying," he
says, "to make it easy for my family to watch."

--Kelli Anderson

COLOR PHOTO: VINCENT MUZIK [Martin Gramatica leaping in game]