Though not the most outgoing Nittany Lion, the mild-mannered Ficken has become a go-to guy on those occasions when he is available for mid-week media calls. He is thoughtful in his answers, even to tough questions. He has never been afraid to address his own shortcomings or to give insight into the sometimes mysterious world of place-kicking.
Entering his third year as a starter, Ficken has been consistently inconsistent. Through four games last season, he made 7 of 8 boots, including the longest field goal ever (54 yards) by a PSU player at Beaver Stadium. But from that point on, he made only 8 of 17, to finish the season at 15 of 23. I looked at every game two or three times. I think the biggest thing to me is staying to my fundamentals that I learned from Robbie (Gould, more on this later) and other great kickers, and just following through with that and staying consistent.
ON JAMES FRANKLIN'S UNIQUE APPROACH TO COACHING KICKERS
At the end of practice, we usually do a competition period, whether it is field goals or punts. For field goals, he kind of does something different. He'll squirt you in the face with water. He'll yell right when you are about to kick. He'll get in your way. He'll mess with your holder. He'll wet the ball. It's for running (sprints), so there is a little bit of pressure involved with the kicks, which I think is a good thing.
That's something we really didn't get with the old staff. So it's something new that I like and will translate over to the field really well.
ON WHAT IT WAS LIKE THE FIRST TIME HE WAS HIT WITH THE DISTRACTIONS
The first practice caught me a little off guard. But you do get (distracting) situations in games. Maybe not water squirting you in the eye or an air horn in your ear. But it does definitely help with your focus throughout the process of kicking.
The first day, it was surprising. But I've grown to endorse it. It's a challenge I look forward to.
ON HOW AMPED PLAYERS GET DURING THE COMPETITION PERIODS AT THE END OF PRACTICE
It's big. No one wants to be running sprints. So the players all get really excited about it. He added that the competition is not players vs. players, but rather the specials teams units vs. challenges laid down by the coaching staff. If the players lose, they can go double or nothing on sprints. We've only really struggled one day in punting. But other than that we've done well.
ON NEW SPECIAL TEAMS COACH CHARLES HUFF
Coach Huff is a great coach, a great guy. He knows a little bit more about kicking than the previous staff did, so that's good to have an extra eye. He's really enthusiastic about special teams. That's one of the areas we were kind of deficient in past seasons. He brings a lot of energy to it and that's motivating players to put their best foot forward as far as special teams go, which I really like.
ON THE BIGGEST CHANGE FROM THE BILL O'BRIEN STAFF TO THE FRANKLIN STAFF
The biggest change I would have to say is the competitiveness. Everything they do, it's about competing, competing with one another, pushing your teammate to be the best he can. You don't want someone out there who is slacking off, so I think that's the biggest change. They are extremely forceful in competing to the best of your ability, whether it is a walk-through or a live practice.
ON HAVING RYAN KEISER BACK AS HIS HOLDER. KEISER HAD TO STOP HOLDING FOR A TIME EARLY LAST SEASON DUE TO A HAND INJURY.
That was one of the biggest factors in my late-season struggles. Me and Keiser have a great connection. It has shown this spring. I basically picked up right where we were when he went down with the hand injury. He added that he is also working with punter Chris Gulla as the holder in case something like that were to happen again.
ON HOW GULLA IS DOING AS THE PROJECTED STARTING PUNTER
He's doing really well. Obviously, he's only a freshman, so there are some bumps in the road along the way. But he's shown periods of greatness where I feel 100 percent comfortable in him being the starting punter and one of the best in the Big Ten.
ON STEPPING UP AS THE BACKUP PUNTER
Ficken said he had not punted since high school before getting back into it last winter. I think at this point, it is more seeing where I'm gonna be at the end of spring and going into camp. I'm going to continue to work on it. Obviously, Gulla is the starting punter right now. Ficken said with limited depth at kicker and punter, he and Gulla have both got to be accessible to do either one.
ON IF IT IS DIFFICULT TO BE A LEADER AS A SPECIALIST
As far as the specialist group -- myself, Gulla and the snapper -- I would say I'm the leader in that group. When it comes to special teams, you lead by example. It's hard to lead if you're not doing your job to the best of your ability. With all the experience I have, I think I have an upper hand in that area. I can show this is what has to be done. You can't just be OK. You have to be great.
ON HOW MUCH HE TALKS WITH ROBBIE GOULD, THE FORMER PSU KICKER (AND CURRENT CHICAGO BEAR) WHO HELPED HIM REFINE HIS STYLE EARLIER IN HIS CAREER
I have not worked with him as much as in the previous year. But we still stay in contact. It's not every week, like it used to be. He feels confident in the fundamentals he set up for me. I feel confident in my ability. So I haven't utilized him as much, but we still are in contact quite often.