Ficken improving, not dwelling on past

Sam Ficken stared at his bedroom wall -- sometimes before brushing his teeth, other times after hours of practice -- and remembered.

The sophomore kicker had tacked a PSU-Virginia game program to that apartment wall so he couldn't forget. He didn't want to make the same mistakes. He didn't want history to repeat itself. And he didn't want his career to be defined by that 1-of-5 performance in a 17-16 loss.

Nothing motivated him more than that magazine. But now, nine weeks after that performance, Ficken said he awakes with thoughts of the future instead of regrets about the past.

"I actually ended up taking that down about a week ago," he said. "I'm trying to move on from that game, I'm trying to forget about it. So I'm trying not to dwell."

Ficken has gone from being a constant source of disparaging Tweets and student chatter -- a kicker whom the crowd would, somewhat mockingly, scream loudly for after a converted extra point -- into a player who's made his last six field goals. Fans no longer hold their collective breath when he steps on the field, and Ficken's confidence has been rising as steadily as his field goal percentage.

"He's a very, very laid-back guy that cares about his teammates," Bill O'Brien said. "It's nice to see him improve like he has."

When Ficken slowly walked off Virginia's field, while a sea of orange-and-white jumped and hugged, he told himself the season would get better. He turned toward former Penn State kickers, such as Robbie Gould and Kevin Kelly, for advice. He even heard from Minnesota Vikings placekicker Blair Walsh, who holds no PSU connections.

Gould has offered to break down his film, while Kelly insisted his struggles were simply temporary. He told Ficken how he handled his own misses, convincing himself on the field that -- statistically -- he was more likely to make the next kick after a miss.

"It's a mental thing," Kelly told ESPN. "He's gradually getting better and better, and that's what we can expect of him."

Ficken began booting the ball 70 or 80 times a day, so often that he tweaked his quad before the Ohio State game. And he devoted himself to the practice field and tried anything that assistant coach John Butler recommended.

Butler toted around a stop watch and forced Ficken to slow his kicks from 1.2 seconds to 1.3 seconds -- a small-but-critical fix that improved his accuracy. Ficken also focused on the position of his plant foot, which initially caused the pigskin to draw left, much like a bad follow-through in golf.

"Twitter was a little rough there, but I don't really care about people who have no idea what my ability level is and who don't really know me," Ficken said. "I just need my teammates, my coaches, my family -- so I don't pay much attention to it."

Ficken opened the season by making 2-of-8 field goals and boasting the worst accuracy rate in the nation. Since Week 6, he's gone 8-of-9 -- and his only miss was blocked.

He paused for a moment Thursday when asked whether his performance has felt like a roller coaster. Ficken couldn't describe it any other way.

"I'll have to agree," he said. "This season hasn't gone exactly how I wanted to -- but my goal is not to miss another kick the rest of the season."