Penn State's Ficken opens up about criticism, support

Penn State sophomore kicker Sam Ficken missed four field goals Saturday against Virgina two weeks ago. (Andrew Shurtleff/AP)

For the first time this season, Penn State kicker Sam Ficken was made available to the media after the game.

And so for the first time, the sophomore was able to shed insight on how he has coped with the criticsm and spotlight that has shadowed him since his 1-for-5 performance against Virginia.

Ficken, a 19-year-old, also missed a point after a touchdown in that game. Penn State lost, 17-16.

"You kind of take it and roll with the punches, I guess," Ficken said, as he rocked back and forth in his swivel chair. His voice was low and serious. He did not hesitate after questions.

"I did miss four kicks, so I understand fans being pretty upset," Ficken said. "But you've got to move forward."

In last week's game against Navy, Ficken did not attempt a kick. When Penn State faced a fourth down on the Navy 8-yard line, coach Bill O'Brien opted to go for it. The result was an incomplete pass.

Against Temple, Ficken made the only field goal he attempted -- a 21-yard attempt in the fourth quarter.

Ficken described the experience as "up and down." The upside came this week as he was able to redeem himself. It also came from the support of his family.

"They called me right when I got off the plane," Ficken said. "And when they came up for the next game, they gave me a big hug and said, 'Hey, we're here for you, we love you, keep your head up, you're a good kicker, don't worry about it.' "

The support also came from his teammates, who have publicly stood by him.

The night of the Virginia game -- Penn State flew back to State College right away -- some of Ficken's teammates hung out with him. They watched other football games on TV and tried to keep his mind off the loss.

"It felt good they were there for me," Ficken said. "They're pretty much my brothers now."

Meanwhile, Ficken's personal Twitter feed was flooded with messages. Some were angry and hurtful. Others offered support.

He also received messages from some high-profile names. Former Penn State kickers (Robbie Gould, Kevin Kelly), as well as some kickers in the NFL (Blair Walsh of the Minnesota Vikings).

"I think they knew what I was going through, and wanted to help me," Ficken said. "They've been through tough times, too."

For Ficken, speaking to Gould definitely hit home.

"He said he'd been there," Ficken said. "I heard from other players, too that Robbie had a bad game, I think it was against Iowa. And now he's one of the best kickers in the NFL."

-Emily Kaplan