A little more than a month ago, Sam Ficken went from brokerage dealer to NFL kicker — and the former Nittany Lion took full advantage of his surprising opportunity.
Ficken — who finished his rollercoaster Penn State career in 2014 as one of the program’s most clutch kickers in recent memory — was signed by Los Angeles Rams in late December.
Rams reliable placekicker Greg Zuerlein landed on injured reserve, and Los Angeles needed a replacement for its playoff push. They picked Ficken, and he repaid their trust — rebounding from a tough first game to hit two field goals in the regular-season finale and another two in the Rams’ divisional round loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Ficken joined us for “Five Questions,” discussing his growing legend among Penn State fans, the experience of kicking in the playoffs and what lies ahead.
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Q: After the Los Angeles Rams’ 26-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the wild card playoff round a few weeks ago, what have you been up to? And what’s your status with the Rams?
A: So I have a contract with them through the end of this league year. That, I think, will change around the middle of March. Some time around then. I don’t have the exact date. (Editor’s note: The new NFL league year begins March 14.) But I did sign a one-year contract with them, which expires then. However, they do hold my rights. So for me, I kind of expect and hope to be back there as the offseason continues. Whether they bring me back or not, that’s obviously entirely up to them. I’ve taken the past couple weeks off from kicking. Since I left college, I’ve been trying to maintain shape, so that if I ever got a call, I’d be ready to go. Well now that I’ve kind of broken through that, I know I need to rest my leg. I’ve been kicking three times a week for three years. Take four weeks off from the end of the season, and I’ll be back kicking here shortly. I’m obviously maintaining shape and doing other things. ... I’m back in Connecticut. I’m working for a couple more weeks here, and then as things play out, I expect to be back out there (in Los Angeles) if they decide that as well. That’s not up to me, so it’s kind of to be determined.
Q: Kicking in the playoffs — and accounting for seven of the Rams’ 13 points with two field goals and an extra point — must’ve been pretty surreal. What was that day like?
A: To be honest with you, I didn’t feel like it was much different than the other two games, just because I was catching on so late in the year. Pretty much every experience was a new experience for me. It wasn’t like, “Hey, I’ve been here the whole year. Obviously there was a little more juice for this game.” For me, I think everything was just so new and, experience-wise, it was so different. It didn’t seem that, I guess, different being the fact that it was a playoff game. But there’s obviously a lot more on the line there. Expectations are certainly raised, especially at that position. You’re expected to make everything because every point matters in those tight matchups.
Q: Going back a bit, when the Rams called you in the first place, were you surprised at all? And after that first game where you had a missed extra point, were you nervous after that?
A: Anytime a team is on the precipice of making a playoff run, it’s probably going to grab headlines if you sign a rookie kicker. I think given the scenario, it shocked some people. However, I was fortunate in that they held tryouts, and I had a really good tryout. They went off that and not so much based on my resume. I’m certainly thankful for the opportunity there. My one blunder was at the start of that first game. Missing my first two kicks wasn’t the most ideal. I had a great tryout and great couple of practices, and to go in there and not perform to my expectations, let alone theirs, was frustrating. But I’ve certainly been through some frustrating experiences. I think that probably helped me maintain my composure. Between a couple of first-game jitters and little bit of rust, I felt much more comfortable after those first couple snaps.
Q: You kind of hinted at what you’ve been through, and everyone knows that story. With the way you finished your Penn State career, ever since, you’ve been somewhat of a folk hero to a lot of Penn State fans. During that game with the Falcons, there were a ton of non-Rams fans in State College and on Twitter pulling for Los Angeles because you were the kicker. Being on the receiving end of that attention and support, how much appreciation do you have for it?
A: As far as my story goes, it’s a cool way my story played out. Because of that, I maybe garnered a little more attention than a normal college kicker would get. To go from working full-time to kicking in a playoff game in your third start is kind of a surreal story. The whole storyline grabbed some attention. It’s really cool not only because I’ve put a lot of work into this, but there are so many more people that I depend on or have been aided by throughout the last three years in the process of finally making that step and getting on a roster and a real NFL game field. It’s cool to collectively hear from a lot of people who have helped me along the way. I’m grateful for a multitude of people that would fall into that category.
Q: Who are some of the people you heard from at Penn State?
A: A good amount of former teammates, Coach (James) Franklin, Coach (Charles) Huff, some of the strength staff there. Guys who I’ve built relationships with other the years. They were sending me congratulatory messages. Not only that, but like my parents. For them to have aided me through three years of part-time jobs and sending me to kicking camps and combines to hopefully and finally break in and get that shot, it was cool to kind of involve them in the process and the story.