Today we continue our 12 for 2012 series. The list won't necessarily cover the 12 best players on the squad, but those whose production and presence on and off the field will be needed the most if the Nittany Lions are to have the kind of success they're looking for this season.
No. 6 -- Sam Ficken
Rewind: Hailing from Valparaiso, Ind., Ficken (a cousin of Purdue basketball star Robbie Hummel) showed his power and accuracy quickly after getting a late start on his high school football career, collecting 44 touchbacks and converting on 10 of 14 field-goal attempts (unlike most high school kickers, he did not use a tee) as a senior. The backup to Anthony Fera last season, Ficken connected on one of his two field-goal tries (from 43 yards; the other was blocked) and his only extra-point attempt. When Fera decided to transfer to Texas to be closer to his family this summer, Ficken assumed the starting placekicking role and will handle kickoff duties as well.
The Take: Taller and leaner than many of Penn State's recent kickers (but still giving up about 50 pounds to Fera), Ficken has a smooth stride that allows him to launch the ball with good trajectory and authority. He says he has never missed an extra point and has earned strong reviews from head coach Bill O'Brien for his consistency throughout preseason camp. Ficken's unusual style -- he starts toward the ball before the holder receives the snap -- could potentially lead to some timing issues but also makes it harder for defenders to block his kick. A dean's list student in Penn State's Smeal College of Business, Ficken is known for his low-key demeanor, a trait that could serve him well in crunch time.
The Forecast: Fera's transfer to Texas left arguably the largest gap for Penn State. Ficken will have the first chance to fill it. Leg strength and technique don't seem like they will be problems for the gangly 6-foot-2, 172-pounder. Accuracy, consistency and mental toughness, the three big keys for any kicker, will be the keys for Ficken. His power coupled with the NCAA's new rule that moves the kickoff line from the 30 to the 35 should make life easy on Penn State's kickoff coverage team. The Nittany Lions have plenty of question marks at other positions, including punter. They would love it if Ficken got off to a solid start and wasn't one of them.