Just like that he became the scapegoat: Sam Ficken lost the game.
The tweets alone were horrifying, many suggesting his life wasn’t worth living and nearly all dropping an F bomb or two. Ficken wasn’t supposed to be the starter; he was the default when Anthony Fera transferred at the last second. He wasn’t ready for the job; it was thrust upon him.
When Ficken continued to struggle, Coach O’Brien could have benched him, looked for somebody (anybody!) else to make the kicks, but he didn’t. O’Brien said he believed in Ficken and that he had confidence in Sam’s ability. “It's not just been Sam Ficken is our kicker no matter what," O'Brien said. "He's won the job every week."
We could have run him off campus, sent him transferring to nowhere because no one would have him, but we didn’t. Ficken repeatedly mentioned the hundreds of people who reached out to him directly to offer support. Robbie Gould, Penn State’s kicker from 2001 to 2004 and current All-Pro Chicago Bear, sought out Ficken and became a mentor.
Ficken could have quit. He could have bowed to the media pressure and the negativity, but he didn’t.
Instead, he kept at it. He took that awful Virginia game day program, tacked it to his wall, and used it as motivation. He changed his approach. He took out an awkward half-step, focused on his form, technique, strength training. He practiced more kicks than ever. He hoped for the best. He took care of the little things, and the big things started to take care of themselves.
Ficken ended the 2012 season as the leading scorer with 81 points. He made 14 of 21 field goals, including a game winning kick in overtime to beat Wisconsin, and he was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week. And these were merely his football accomplishments: this guy is active in community service and he’s on the Dean’s list too! He hoped for the best. He took care of the little things, and the big things started to take care of themselves.
Sam Ficken is a true Penn State story. A young man with great character and a strong support system. He couldn’t change the past but he changed his future. He stuck with it. His coaches stuck with him. Penn Staters stuck with him. Look at him now. In his first 2013 appearance, he was again named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week. This past weekend he set the school record with his fourteenth consecutive field goal.
This has always been our story. Stick together. Grind it out. Hope for the best. Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves. No matter how you feel about what happened in 2011, we can all agree that Penn State hit an all time low. Our players stuck with us. Our coach stuck with us. Penn Staters stuck with us. We can’t change the past but we can change our future. WE ARE (still) PENN STATE.