Washington State's powerful kicker gives NFL teams first-round thoughts

September 29, 1991|By Gil Lyons | Gil Lyons,Seattle Times

SEATTLE -- When Jim Sweeney watched Jason Hanson practice in pregame warm-ups two weeks ago in Pullman, Wash., his mouth opened in amazement.

"He was kicking 65-yard field goals, and he was intimidating me," the Fresno State football coach said. "I figured we'd have to start blitzing as soon as they reached our 40-yard line."

Sweeney's Bulldogs edged Washington State, 34-30, despite three field goals by Hanson, one a 54-yarder into the wind.

"Nobody I've ever seen can kick the ball like that kid," Sweeney said.

That was quite a compliment, considering that Sweeney is godfather to Jan Stenerud, whom he coached at Montana State. Stenerud last year became the first pure kicker inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sweeney calculated that Hanson's 54-yard field goal would have been good from 65 yards.

"He just kicks it like a jet taking off," Sweeney said. "He's unbelievable."

Hanson has made more field goals of 50 yards or farther (17) than any other player in NCAA history. He also surpassed the record for most field goals longer than 40 yards and, perhaps even more significantly, has made 70.8 percent of his attempts from 50 yards or longer. National Football League kickers average 70 percent on all kicks.

Hanson said he has reached his "practical limit" for distance. He has kicked a 70-yarder in practice.

"I've learned to kick at a quick level," Hanson said. "When I'm kicking the hardest, swinging hard, I think I'm the most accurate. When I ease up is when I might have trouble."

A senior with a 3.76 grade point in pre-med, Hanson will be coveted in next year's NFL draft. Where he might be taken is open to debate.

"He'll be a high first-round draft pick, the highest kicker in the history of pro football," Sweeney said. "He's going to have a bigger impact on the game than Ray Guy."

Guy was a first-round choice of the Oakland Raiders in 1972 and became the NFL's best punter for a decade and a half.

Hanson doubles as one of the NCAA's top punters. He averaged 45.4 yards, a Cougars record, last year and 42.3 yards in three games this season.

"If I was in the numbers game like they are [in the NFL], I'd certainly consider making him a high draft choice," Washington coach Don James said. "He's probably got as strong a leg as anyone."

Tom Flores, general manager of the Seattle Seahawks, said: "There's no question this guy could be a first-round choice. You've got to be pretty special to do that."

Is it feasible for a player to kick and punt in the NFL? "You can do both," Flores said, "but I don't know if you can do justice to both."

At Ohio State last week, Hanson missed from 47 and 33 yards, then connected from 52 and 44 yards.

"The misses just proved he's human," Washington State coach Mike Price said. "I hesitate to talk in superlatives about him, but his statistics prove he's the best kicker ever to play the game. Look what he's done. They take away the tee, no problem. They narrow the goal posts, no problem."

Taking away the tee may have helped, Hanson said, "because I was kicking the ball off the ground for so long in soccer."

But the narrower posts do make a difference.

"My first two misses are good examples," he said. "The first one almost hit the post and the second went right over the top."

Hanson wants a crack at becoming a dual NFL kicker.

"It's hard to do both at a top level, that All-America level," he said. "They are two different mind sets and two different motions physically. But I truly think I can do both. And I like doing both, because then I'm more into the game."

Hanson, 6 feet and 176 pounds, said he gets his power from perfect timing.

A product of Spokane's Mead High School, Hanson said he originally wanted to attend the University of Washington, not Washington State.

"I had a great junior year and everybody was talking to me," he said. "Then I had a poor senior year and everybody stopped knocking."

He became a walk-on at Washington State and now figures destiny took him to Pullman. His younger brother, Travis, went to the University of Washington and became the Huskies kicker late last season as a freshman.

Hanson doesn't know whether he could kick in the NFL and attend medical school in off-seasons, as ex-Cougars running back Dan Doornink did while playing with the Seahawks in the 1980s.

"I'll definitely take a year off and concentrate on football," he said. "If it doesn't work out, I'll go right to med school. But I might play football for 15 years."

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