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Sept. 23, 2013
Through the first four games in 2012, Ficken was 2-for-6 on field goal attempts with 32 yards being his season long.
Through four games this year, Ficken is 7-for-8 on field goal attempts, which includes a career long 54-yard boot during Saturday's 34-0 victory over Kent State on a soggy field.
The kick was not only Ficken's all-time best, it was the longest made field goal by a Penn State player in Beaver Stadium history. And it was Penn State's longest kick in 34 years. The Indiana native's only miss this season came on a 57-yard attempt against UCF that came up just feet short in the north end of Beaver Stadium. Simply put, Ficken has been tremendous for the Nittany Lions in 2013.
"It's just fantastic the way he's kicked the ball," O'Brien said. "I think that was the longest field goal since the `70s. That's a heck of a kick. That wasn't in the red area, it was a 54-yarder."
There was never a doubt on Ficken's 54-yard kick on Saturday. The snap and hold were spot on, and when the ball left Ficken's foot, it was immediately on track to split the uprights.
"The snap was good, the hold was good, and I followed through and made it there," Ficken said. "It's more of a middle kick, so I aim right middle, got back and took my steps, and hit it well and pretty clean," Ficken said. "That was a very similar kick to the previous one. I didn't hit it perfectly, but, you know, I hit it well enough where it went in. Butters (Butterworth) did a good job with the hold. The rain didn't really affect my steps at all; the field was in good condition. It was pretty much a normal kick that I do in practice four times a week."
Whether the kick is a 20-yard extra point or a long ball like Saturday's, Ficken treats every scenario the same. After working with NFL standout and former Penn State kicker Robbie Gould during the offseason, Ficken switched his step motion from two and a half to two steps. Removing the half step limits the margin for error in the kicking process. That fundamental change in the operation and work on his plant foot, along with increased leg strength, are keys to why the Nittany Lion junior has made a big jump since the beginning of last season.
"You try and hit every ball the same, but on those long ones, you have to go in with the mindset that it's an extra point, and if you hit it well, it's going to get there," Ficken said. "I took that mindset and hit it.
The other piece to being a good kicker is the mental side of the job. It was clear last fall that it's not in Ficken's DNA to give up. Following a rocky start to last season, he went right to work and never changed his mindset. Spending five minutes with Ficken would give you a taste what his personality and demeanor are like. A popular guy in the locker room, Ficken always has a smile on his face and approaches his job on the field with a positive outlook.
"A lot of kicking is mental, so with timing and follow through and what not, all that stuff is fundamental. When you go out there, you have to forget it, and just kick the ball like you know you know how to," Ficken said.
Ficken is regularly the first player on the field before practice begins. Constantly working on his craft, the junior has become virtually automatic at practice, routinely knocking kicks of 50 or more yards through the uprights during drills. That success has carried over to the game field. Since the Ohio State game last, which is nine games ago, Ficken has made 17 of his last 18 kicks. That span included a record 15-straight made field goals.
"My confidence is about as high as it can get right now," Ficken said. "But not to get ahead of myself, I've got to keep working on my fundamentals. It does feel good, but when you succeed you've got to take a step back and look how you got there to keep (improving)."