Ficken emerges as Penn State special teams star
He's converted 17 of 19 field goals this season, including a game-winning 36-yard kick against Central Florida in the opener. The two misses were blocked.
He's third in the NCAA in field goals at 2.12 per game and twice been selected Big Ten special teams player of the week.
Ficken is so popular among Nittany Lion fans that he could run for mayor of State College, coach James Franklin said. Two seasons ago, when he was 14 of 21 and missed four field goals in a loss at Virginia, most Penn State fans weren't happy.
''Everybody loves him,'' Franklin said. ''He's an awesome kid. He's the whole package. A few years ago, people weren't really feeling that way.''
Ficken missed attempts of 40, 38 and 20 yards against Virginia, and his fourth miscue was a potential game-winner of 42 yards; the Lions lost 17-16.
That prompted a series of unflattering emails and text messages from fans.
This season, Ficken drilled field goals of 47, 25, 46 and 48 yards against Maryland, marking the first time since 1982 a Penn State kicker was successful on three kicks of 45 yards or more.
On Saturday, the senior will return to his home state of Indiana when Penn State (4-4, 1-4, Big Ten) faces the Hoosiers (3-5, 0-4).
''To go through that experience made me work extremely hard to get where I want to be,'' Ficken said. ''And it gave me the opportunity to work with some really great people - Robbie Gould especially.''
Gould is the Chicago Bears kicker who played for Penn State from 2001-04.
''Had I not struggled, I don't know if he would have personally reached out to me. I feel so comfortable with my fundamentals now,'' Ficken said. ''Obviously, it's translated well out onto the field.''
His coach appreciates the improvement.
''There's no doubt he's been a weapon for us especially in terms of field goals and PATs,'' Franklin said.
''I'm really proud of him because when I got here, that's not really what I was told.''
Ficken was 15 of 23 last season and his production declined when holder Ryan Keiser was injured.
''A lot of my struggles last year came when Ryan went down with an injury and that was my own fault,'' Ficken said.
Keiser was injured again this year, but punter Chris Gulla was practicing as Ficken's holder and eased the adjustment period.
''You look at how far he's come and the confidence he's playing with right now and the type of leader he's been for our team, I can't say enough what a great example he is for all of us,'' Franklin said.
Ficken also has been working with Penn State punters Chris Gulla and Daniel Pasquariello, who've had difficulties this season.
Penn State's net punting average of 34 yards per kick is 112th out of 125 FBS teams. Poor punting has set up opponents with good field position on many occasions.
''Through my experiences I've kind of been able to relate to where they're at right now,'' Ficken said.
''I've told them that the only way they are going to get through it is to keep a positive attitude and work their butts off. That's something they're doing.''