Its a technical and mental process which takes a bunch of help.
Sam Ficken tried so hard to become a better kicker that he injured his quadriceps. Ficken said overkicking caused the injury.
Even when hes flourishing, something stunts his progress. Last week at Nebraskas Memorial Stadium, heavy winds knocked a black rubber particle lodged between the turf into his eye. He wore an eye patch for a brief period and is still using eye drops.
Whether hes limping or visually impaired, Ficken appears to have rebounded from a tough start to his stint as Penn States full-time kicker.
The sophomore will enter Saturdays game against Indiana having nailed six straight field goals, including three in brutal conditions at Nebraska.
Scour Penn States roster and look for a comeback player of the year, and Fickens name immediately surfaces. He started the season 4-for-11 on field-goal attempts. His woes included a 1-for-5 performance in a 17-16 loss at Virginia on Sept. 8. Ficken missed a 42-yarder as time expired.
The game introduced Ficken to the scrutiny surrounding majorcollege football players.
I have Twitter and Facebook, Ficken said Wednesday referring to popular social media sites. Twitter was a little rough there. I dont really care what people who have no idea what my ability is and who dont really know me. ... All I really need are my teammates and coaches, and family and friends. I just really didnt pay attention to it. It was out there, but you cant dwell on any of that.
His season started turning around last month, as he played through a quadriceps injury that started limiting him the week of last months hyped home game against Ohio State. The Nittany Lions met the Buckeyes on Oct. 27, a week after Ficken missed his last field goal, which was a blocked kick in a 38-14 victory at Iowa.
Technical changes made by Ficken involved altering the positioning of his plant foot and speed of his leg swing. Ficken said it takes him 1.3 seconds, instead of 1.2, to kick the ball. His kicks faded early in the season. His ball flight has recently straightened, with some kicks displaying a slight draw.
I guess what it compares to is like a golf swing, he said. If you aim wrong and you try to swing toward the hole, its usually not going to go where you want it to. If youre not aiming to your target, its pretty hard to hit your target.
A collection of kickers, team- mates and coaches are guiding Ficken through the season. Ficken spoke with former Penn State kickers Kevin Kelly and Massimo Manca after the Virginia game. Punter Alex Butterworth put Ficken in touch with Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh.
Fickens research led him to former Penn State and current Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould. Ficken and Gould regularly trade text messages, with Gould offering pointers based on what he sees on television.
Goulds Penn State career included some erratic moments as he converted just 63.9 percent of his field-goal attempts. He learned from his collegiate mistakes and developed into one of the NFLs top kickers.
I sought out talking to Robbie Gould even though we had contact before the (Virginia) game, Ficken said. Hes obviously doing really well and knows his stuff.
Fickens supporters also include Penn State coach Bill OBrien and secondary coach John Butler, who works extensively with the teams specialists. The duo stuck with Ficken when other coaches might have found another option.
OBrien agreed that improving the placement of his plant foot is helping Ficken.
Hes much more consistent with where his plant foot is on each kick, OBrien said. There is a lot of credit that you have to give to him because hes really worked at it. When youre kicking better and better, youre gaining more and more confidence. Its nice to see him improve like he has.
Ficken, who earned the kicking job after Anthony Fera transferred to Texas last summer, harbors one goal for the seasons final stage.
This season hasnt gone exactly how I wanted it to, he said, but its turned around here. My goal is not to miss another kick the rest of the season and hopefully that happens.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy