With all due deference to longtime Raiders stalwart Sebastian Janikowski, kickers just don’t normally look like offensive linemen.
Unless they happened to play for UNLV from 1991-94.
Nick “The Kick” Garritano was built like a Jeep in his playing days, on the field between 240 and 265 pounds, with a six-cylinder leg to match.
“A good buddy of mine used to tell me stories about what the other players would say,” Garritano recalled. “It was always an interesting treat to the fans to see me. They'd say, ‘Oh give him a hot dog,’ or they'd throw all sorts of different things at you.”.
But the comments never flustered him. “I knew that would come with being a bigger guy and doing what I did. I probably ate a little bit too much, drank too many beers. But the bottom line was, I worked really hard at lifting weights. I worked really hard at kicking, and I did everything I could to be a success for the team.”
That lineman’s build wasn’t an accident — Garritano played guard in high school, as well as kicked. When he landed at UNLV on a scholarship, he kept lifting weights with the linemen and loved to compete with them. It took him a year to accept, though, that his days in their trenches were behind him. Once he did, his career as a kicker flourished.
The UNLV Hall of Famer’s name is splashed all over the record book. His 15 points in a game, from a 1992 tilt against Cal State Fullerton, were only eclipsed in 2017. He’s the only UNLV kicker to hit four field goals in a game twice.
But the real excitement was the longball.
On seven attempts from 50 to 59 yards, Garritano converted five, including two in a game against San Jose in front of a costumed crowd on Halloween night in 1994 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Garritano connected on kicks of 51 and 54 yards. After the game was done, San Jose kicker Joe Nedny told Garritano “good luck in the league.” Nedney knew what he was talking about — he went on to a 15-year career in the NFL, kicking for the 49ers, Titans, and others.
The 54-yard blast Garritano repeated two weeks later against the UNR Wolf Pack in a game that sealed the Big West for the Rebels. That sent them to the Las Vegas Bowl, where an ESPN camera crew followed Garritano around during his pregame warmups and introduced him as a “beer-bellied booter.”
“It was pretty neat,” he said. “Not every kid in the country gets the lead on SportsCenter. We all enjoyed it. It was just like anything. Everybody respected me for the ability I had, but on the outside looking in, I was an easy target. Most kickers are all of 5-9, 160 pounds. Obviously, I looked a lot different from everybody else.”
Garritano would be summoned to minicamp with the 49ers, but ultimately came back to finish his Kinesiology degree in 1995. He entered the coaching ranks, first coaching baseball and football at Chaparral High School before moving over to Green Valley and, eventually, the College of Southern Nevada where he is entering his ninth season as the Coyotes’ baseball coach.
Garritano returned the Coyotes to the NJCAA World Series in 2017 — which the team had won in 2003 behind Bryce Harper. With more interest in the Las Vegas Valley from four-year Division I schools, his job as a recruiter has become more challenging over the years. But regardless, Garritano and his staff have sent 18 ballplayers into the MLB draft.
“It's definitely a lot more satisfying when you see a kid get his degree and be able to continue his education at a four-year institution,” Garritano said. “If we can change a kid's life, that's a lot more important than trying to win a game.
“This community has given me every opportunity in life that I've asked for, and I feel it's important to live up to every expectation. The day I ride into the sunset, I want to be able to say we did it morally and ethically correct.”
And with a big leg that packed a big wallop.