Those who know me aren't the least bit surprised that I'm the one writing this post. In fact, in all likelihood, this will be the final post written about Sam Ficken on Black Shoe Diaries before he becomes the property of an NFL team. That being said, this is a farewell or sorts, as well as an informative piece on $am.
His journey truly began the day before I went to a store in downtown State College to customize a jersey in his honor-September 8, 2012. On this fateful day, Penn State fell to the Virginia Cavaliers by a final of 17-16. Ficken missed four field goals and an extra point on the day, effectively costing the Nittany Lions the game. Sure, you could blame the offense for not finishing drives, but that would be a pointless argument. Things improved slightly over the next five games, but not much. Sam connected on just three of his six field goal tries, and missed another extra point. From that point on though, Ficken did not miss. He finished the season going ten for ten in the final give games, including the game winning field goal against Wisconsin on Senior Day.
The next season started well for Sam, but took a negative turn as the season went on. Plagued by injury for much of the season, Sam would go just 15 for 23 on his field goal tries as a junior, but did create a career highlight, as he drilled a 54 yarder against Kent State in the pouring rain.
Sam's final season as a Nittany Lion would see him recapture the "end of the 2012 season" magic, starting with a 4-4 performance (including the game winner) in Dublin. He would finish the season 24-29 on field goal attempts, as well as completing a perfect year of extra points (something he failed to do in his first two seasons as the starter). The last of those field goals pushed the game into overtime in the Pinstripe Bowl, and his final extra point in overtime ended the contest.
Sam Ficken experienced an extremely up and down career, even for a #CollegeKicker. Not many have faced and overcome the adversity he has, and not many are as prepared for the stresses and pressure of the NFL game as he is.
What You're Getting
In Sam Ficken, you are getting a kicker that should be as close to automatic as you can find inside of 53 yards (provided he's not playing through injury). When healthy, he was the most reliable piece of the entire Penn State scoring attack for all of last season, and for parts of 2013 as well.
Obviously you're also getting someone mentally tough enough to handle the job. He fought through hate from some Penn State fans following the Virginia game, injuries, inconsistencies in both his own game and in his coaching staffs and everything else a college athlete could go through. You're getting a born leader who won't back down from a challenge, and someone who has already been in more game-on-the-line situations than some current NFL kickers.
That being said, there are some weaknesses to his game. Nearly all of the missed kicks he suffered last season were blocked. Some of them were outstanding plays by the defense, but some of them occurred because the kicks were just too low. He also struggled a bit on kickoffs, not getting nearly enough touchbacks to be considered NFL-quality in that aspect of his game right this second. He makes up for that lack of kickoff power though, with surprisingly competent coverage skills after the ball has left his foot. Part of the reason he was the beneficiary of numerous tackles throughout his career was that the rest of the special teams were made up largely of walk-ons who simply didn't belong on the field yet (#sanctions), but part of it was also due to a very strong sense of where his coverage lane was, and how to break down and hit the return man squarely.
I know that you're probably getting Sam as an un-drafted free agent, or a last second seventh round pick, but that doesn't mean he can't become an important part of your team. He'll need some work on kickoffs, and he needs to continue working on raising the elevation of his kicks, but he is one of the highest ranked kickers in this draft for a reason. Three years ago, most people thought that Ficken wouldn't even make it through a full season in college. Now, he's on the brink of the NFL. Congratulations, Sam. You have truly made each and every one of us, proud. And if you want to send me that signed jersey/helmet for unconditionally supporting you all these years and wearing your jersey to every game, let me know.
Sam Ficken will likely find his way to your team via un-drafted free agency. He won't be your kickoff man (at least not right away), and some of his early NFL kicks will probably be blocked. However, he has faced adversity like few others throughout his college career, and that alone makes him better suited to survive in the NFL than most. Not to mention that when healthy, he is as close to automatic as it gets all the way out to around 53 yards. He'll develop into a team leader, and he has experience working with multiple types of coaches. He'll make you happy that you gave him a chance.
Watching Sam kick at Penn State has been one of, if not, my favorite parts of his football team over the past three years. Wherever he ends up, that team will be gaining a true champion and a ferocious spirit. Good luck, Sam.