Penn State Football: Ficken Enjoying Added Pressure In Practice
Special teams can win you a game. It can lose you a game too.
So as Penn State enters the James Franklin era there has been a new emphasis on the importance of special teams.
No longer an afterthought, two or three sessions per practice are dedicated to the unit that can make or break a season. For placekicker Sam Ficken, the added pressure at practice and the added focus on special teams is a welcome development.
"Coach Huff is a great coach and great guy," Ficken says of special team's coach Charles Huff. "He knows a little bit more about kicking than the previous staff did. He's really enthusiastic about special teams. That was one area where we were kind of deficient the past season, and he's brought a lot of energy to it."
At this point Ficken has seen and done just about everything. He has missed crucial field goals, he has set the Penn State record for most consecutive makes. He has been the hero, and he's gotten hate mail.
But even Ficken has never seen special teams attacked quite like this. Water sprayed in his face, teammates running around him, air horns blasted during his kicks, 50-yard attempts to determine if the team will do conditioning that day. You practice how you want to perform, and Sam Ficken wants to perform well under pressure.
"There's pressure to your kicks," Ficken said Tuesday on a conference call. "It's something I like and I think will translate over to the field very well."
The little things make a difference too. Ficken has gotten back together with his now healthy holder Ryan Keiser. Some misses last season came from a few suspect holds following Keiser's injury at safety. It's easy to blame Ficken for the misses, but the ball touches two other pairs of hands before it ever makes it to Ficken's foot.
"My big thing is staying consistent, staying healthy, and I think based on the change I made between the two seasons, my form is good," Ficken says. "I looked at every game two or three times. The biggest thing to my game is staying to the fundamentals I learned from Robbie (Gould) and other great kickers and following through with that."
Ficken will likely be called on a lot this season as the Nittany Lions look to battle through what could be the program's toughest year under NCAA sanctions. While simply kicking field goals won't win you many games, being able to capitalize on drives can go a long way towards staying competitive.
But if Ficken can kick under the kind of pressure he's facing in practice, doing it in a game shouldn't be a big deal at all.