Meet Joe Julius, Your New Favorite Football Player
Sam Ficken’s historic senior season saw him drive his 6-foot-2, 186-pound frame through the ball to convert 24 out of 29 field goal attempts, including a season-long 50-yarder. Fans who got used to that sight might be in for a shock next season when redshirt freshman Joey Julius takes the field. Check him out:
The departure of a fan favorite opens the door to the starting kicker role, and while there’s no clear favorite in the race, both Julius and Tyler Davis are doing what they can to claim the position.
“It makes me realize that I’m not the only one out there,” Julius said. “Being with [other kickers], I have to be on my game at all times; I can’t slack off, I can’t not kick, I gotta be out there every day working on my craft. Having people out there just as good as I am is what’s made me better.”
“I think we have options, which is all you can ask for as a coach,” Special Teams Coordinator Charles Huff said. “It’s going to come down to who’s the most consistent during that stretch of camp, not necessarily what they do today or tomorrow, but over time.”
“It’s about who’s doing the right things in the classroom, who’s doing the right things to prepare themselves for the season,” he added. “Tyler and Joey are both preparing themselves to be the starter…it’s going to come down to consistency.”
The two most endearing parts about Julius are his build and his ability to be nicknamed. The former four-star soccer recruit (!!!) stands at a cozy 5-foot-10 and 261 pounds, per Penn State Athletics. For comparison, that’s more weight than Garrett Sickels, Adam Breneman, Nyeem Wartman-White, and many other big guys on the team. It shows in his game, too – at the Blue-White game in April, the coaching staff held a kicking competition between a handful of hopefuls for the starting job. Julius made the finals and showed that he can bomb the ball around 70 yards. It wasn’t always straight, but he can kick the heck out of a football – and with the work he’s been putting in this summer, he can only get better.
“I’ve been focusing on accuracy for the most part,” Julius said. “[My field goal kicks] don’t really have to go back that far now, I’m just working on getting it through the uprights, and getting my kickoffs deeper.”
“Joey is a big individual, but Joey has always been a bigger individual,” Huff said. “Even coming out of high school he was a bigger framed guy. The one thing that you will see, he is bigger, but Joey moves pretty well. He’s not big and slow. He is pretty athletic. Of course we are getting him to kind of put the weight in good places, but it’s a process.”
Partial credit for his ever-improving shape and kicking form is due to the approach from his coaches. Practices under James Franklin and his staff have become notorious for their realistic recreations of gameday environments, ranging from making artificial crowd noise to spraying kickers with water as they’re lining up their shots.
“I’ll go at the end of practice and we’ll go eight field goals, and for every field goal we miss, we have to run a gasser,” Franklin said. “So we can have eight gassers or we can have zero gassers, and [the kickers] have a chance to be the hero or they have a chance to have some people angry at them after practice. And we do that again to try to put those guys in pressure situations so the games will be a little bit easier for them. Then as they get confident with that, we step it up. We’ll dump water on them, use a wet ball, we’ll pump crowd noise in there, as well. We’ll blow air horns in their ears. It’s all a process. We want them to build confidence and have success before we take it to the next stage.”
If Julius earns the starting job, then it will be prudent to turn to Black Shoe Diaries’ poll from the spring breaking down his potential nicknames. The graduation of Sam Ficken and his plethora of aliases opens the door for, among others, “Joe the Toe,” “The Big Toe,” “Fat Joe,” and of course, “Joebastian Juliuskowski.”
And while another great nickname, Mr. Automatic, has graduated from Penn State, the man behind it has stuck around Happy Valley this summer to make sure whoever follows in his footsteps keeps putting the ball through the uprights.
“[Ficken]’s been great,” Julius said. “He’s probably one of the best dudes you could ever learn from. He’s been at the worst moments of his career and he’s been at the height of his career. Now he’s trying to get in the NFL and I get to go out and kick with him while he’s trying to get ready for that, so it’s good to pick up his work habits and things like that.”
Julius also credits Ficken with sharing advice from some of his in-game ordeals from this past season – namely, the athletic members of Rutgers’ defensive line, and Julius’ need to elevate his kicks more.
“That’s one thing Ficken’s talked to me about…they have guys like that, so I have to get the ball up there,” Julius said.
With less than a month until kickoff and no front runner for the starting kicker position, time will tell who will take the first kick for Penn State on Sept. 5. But if you’re a fan of nickname-able athletes who break the mold, then Joey Julius is your guy.
“The one thing that we can’t deny is that he’s big,” Huff said. “But he’s got a big leg, and as long as he’s able to do the things that we’re asking him to do, he’ll be the guy.”