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Sam Ficken Stickin’ It Out In NFL And Shining With Jets

Playing in the NFL isn’t easy. Anyone both skilled and fortunate enough to make it there would agree with that. But performing as a kicker in the league requires a special type of psychological fortitude under pressure that few on the outside can understand.

Former Penn State kicker Sam Ficken hasn’t let this challenge shake him.

In early September, Ficken received a call from the New York Jets asking him to come fill the team’s open kicker position. 

“I was certainly excited. Penn State has a ton of roots in this area. I know a ton of people in this area,” he said. “When they call, obviously you’re always excited to get an opportunity.”

Ficken’s debut for the Jets came against the Cleveland Browns. He took on a 46-yard field goal with ease.

This accomplishment, to Ficken, is just another day on the job. 

“If you’re playing for a team you’re supposed to make a 46-yard field goal. I didn’t really go out there with any other mindset and I will say that the guys here made it pretty easy on me,” he said. “It wasn’t a groundbreaking kick. It’s just typical in the NFL.”

The following week, he went two-for-two in extra point attempts against the New England Patriots, as he cemented himself on a team that had previously lacked consistency at the position. 

Through four games, he’s now 2-of-3 on field goals and 5-of-5 on extra points. He also has nine touchbacks to his credit, in what’s been a breakout year of sorts, after a slow start to his career. Ficken saw game action in four games during the 2017 and 2018 seasons and was 3-of-6 on field goals and 14-of-15 on extra points.

Who would have thought that a simple career change from high school soccer player to football kicker would have cleared a path to the NFL? 

Ficken started kicking for his football team during his junior year of high school after growing up a soccer player. In his first year, he earned the starting job and soon after, attended camps in the offseason to gain experience. This made way for a senior year filled with success as well as offers from some big schools. One of those schools happened to be Penn State. 

“The second they offered me [a scholarship], I hopped up for it,” Ficken said. 

The Sandusky Scandal broke when Ficken was a freshman at Penn State, but while several teammates decided to leave the program, Ficken stayed.

He credits his decision to stay to the tight-knit group of teammates that he had come to know at Penn State. The group saw the choice to stay not only as a decision made with each other but also as a decision for future generations to continue the tradition of Penn State football.

Ficken saw his share of struggles over the next four years, but head coach James Franklin, who arrived in Happy Valley in 2014, saw the talent his kicker had. 

“I think he was instrumental in me having such a great senior year,” Ficken said. “When he came in, he said, ‘Hey, listen, you are certainly the most talented guy we’ve got, but we need to see a little more consistency out of you,’ and he challenged me in that offseason to really work on that.

“I love the place. Through my experiences there and throughout this journey it has certainly made me appreciate my time there more.”  

After going undrafted in the 2015 NFL Draft, Ficken was eventually picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. He then had stints with the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, and the Green Bay Packers before becoming a Jet. 

“I’ve bounced around enough to kind of get used to the whole living out of two suitcases and making the best out of it,” Ficken said.

Why so many destinations? Well, being a kicker in the NFL brings much higher expectations along with a limited number of job opportunities.

“If you miss a kick in college, you can certainly lose your job, but you’re not going to lose your livelihood of getting to go to practice and go to school,” Ficken said. “If you don’t perform in the NFL, you lose your job. Not to say it’s more or less pressure, I think it’s just different in how it comes and the expectation is certainly higher.” 

Despite these higher expectations, Ficken never lost confidence in himself. 

“There were moments that I doubted and got frustrated with the process,” he said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in myself. I thought I was certainly talented enough and I just wasn’t getting an opportunity. You just sometimes lose confidence in the fact that ‘Are you going to get a shot?’”

This life of uncertainty in the NFL doesn’t sound as glamorous as many may predict that it is. But after what he and his teammates endured during their college careers, Ficken is used to the uncertainty. He also recognizes that any opportunity, even during a tough situation, is fleeting and to be cherished.

“Soak it up,” he said. “It goes by quick.”

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About the Author

Dana June Nunemacher

Dana is a senior, who is studying public relations. She is from the 570 and yes, she has watched The Office. Her passions in life include drinking unsweetened iced tea and spreading her love for agriculture (yee haw)!

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