WSU kicker started ‘Kicking Cancer’ fundraiser to honor late mother

Janikowski is hoping to raise over $30,000 for his foundation.



WSU punter Nick Haberer (left) holds the ball for kicker Dean Janikowski (right) during practice, Aug. 17, at Martin Stadium.


Dean Janikowski looks down at his hand with the word “mom” written on it in Sharpie before kickoff.

Dean is the starting kicker on the WSU football team and plans on playing until he graduates with his master’s degree in business management in 2025. 

Ten years ago his mother, Heather Janikowski, was diagnosed with and overcame breast cancer, he said. 

Again in 2018, cancer returned to her brain and she defeated the doctor’s prognosis that she would only have two months to live. 

Heather was back on her feet, waking up at 5 a.m. and going on runs, taking yoga classes and doing everything she normally did in her day-to-day life, Dean said. 

“My mom was great, she was really loud and funny,” he said. “She just loved our family so much, she loved everyone and she was always so supportive.” 

During Dean’s first two years as a walk-on for the Cougar football team, he was not a starter, but in that third season he had his big breakout year, which was so rewarding for him, Dean said. 

Right around that third season in 2021, his mother’s cancer came back. Dean was leaving Bowl Game practices to run in and out of the hospital to visit his mom, he said. 

In the hospital, his mom told him, “You’d better go to that [Bowl] game,” he said. 

After she told him that, he played in the Bowl Game, and around a week or two later, she died, he said. 

Dean said football was never easy for him. Everything thrown his way has always put him on the hardest route.

With his fight to start on the team and his mother’s death, it has been Dean’s motivation to make his mom proud and keep grinding, he said. 

“No matter what, even after my great season, I had more work to do,” he said. “I had to try new things and that’s what I love about football and kicking, there’s no ending point.” 

Dean said the mental aspect of kicking is the most powerful part. The ability to control your mind is just as important as the physical aspects of kicking, he said.

From chewing gum to writing Bible verses on his hand, Dean uses little tricks and lots of positive self-talk to keep himself calm in the moment, he said. 

When Dean was a freshman on the team, he learned quickly that you basically never miss a field goal, he said. 

He is 20 for 22 on field goals and strives to go 90% and above on all kicks, he said.

During his 2022 season, he started a Pledge It called “More than a Kick, where people could donate money for each field goal and point Dean made during his games, he said. 

He ended up raising $17,762 to donate to children with cancer and other local people battling cancer in the Pullman community, he said. 

Valerie Mesenbrink, the owner of Black Tie and Pearls, first heard of Dean when she was sitting on her sofa sipping her coffee and listening to a podcast he was on, she said.

Dean touched Mesenbrink with his personality and the foundation that he created in his mother’s honor, Mesenbrink said. 

Mesenbrink was born and raised in Pullman and considers herself a “die-hard Coug,” so when she heard Dean’s story, she knew she wanted to help, she said. 

“I would describe [Dean] as an upstanding, dedicated, passionate and compassionate person,” she said. “I think in light of everything he’s gone through in the last year and a half, it’s remarkable at 22.” 

The Heather Janikowski Foundation was created by the Janikowski family in 2022 after Heather died as a non-profit committed to programs related to a healthy lifestyle for children, their families and educators, Dean said. 

Ultimately, with the foundation, Dean developed another event called “Kicking Cancer” that he plans on making annual, he said.  Mesenbrink helped Dean put the event together, she said. 

The Kicking Cancer event will be held at Zeppos Bowling Alley in Pullman from 6–9 p.m. Friday with lots of ways to contribute to the Heather Janikowski Foundation, he said. 

There is a $20 admission bowling tournament and they host auctions with big prizes such as a barbecue, football signed by the late former WSU football coach Mike Leach and other items donated by Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, Dean said. 

Dean said they are looking to raise around $30,000 from the event and donate the funds to the Seattle Children’s Hospital Cancer Research Center and a local individual fighting cancer. 

“It makes me happy because it’s something I know my mom would do,” Dean said. “And it makes me happy being able to help those around my community.”