Sam Ficken stayed in his apartment trying to forget, but in this day and age, you can’t hide from the media, especially the social media.
The Valparaiso High School graduate heard the negative comments and read all the nasty posts on Facebook and Twitter.
After making just 1-of-5 field goals and 1-of-2 extra points in a 17-16 loss at Virginia on Sept. 8, Ficken couldn’t run for cover from the criticism.
“I did hear negative comments – I thought it was funny, actually – because it showed how stupid some people were,” Ficken said. “But the posts and messages sent directly toward me were pretty supportive.”
Moments after the loss – one in which Ficken missed a potential game-winner, which sailed wide left as time expired – a Twitter account called @SamFickensFoot was created. The bio on the account read, “Just a misguided foot on a full ride.”
They got nastier, too. “If ur dumb enough to go back to State College I hope the first person that sees u trips u and breaks that awful leg you have,” another Twitter post said.
“All you can do is move forward,” Ficken said. “It was a rocky start – something a kicker never wants to experience.”
The good news is Ficken went back to work the following Monday and took his anger out on the football.
“I couldn’t wait to get to practice. I kicked probably 300 (footballs),” Ficken said. “As a kicker, you’re never supposed to do more than 50 (kicks) a day, but I did it because I felt I needed to in that situation.”
As much as the negativity tried pulling him down, Ficken said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from family, friends and even strangers. His parents, Jim and Nancy, called an hour after the team plane landed to give him words of love and wisdom, as did older brother Drew, an engineering major at Purdue.
It didn’t stop there.
“I had probably 200 (positive) text messages, a hundred emails, 200 messages on Facebook – even people sending me letters of support,” Ficken said. “Random people were sending me letters. I had 20 or so letters from strangers, giving me words of encouragement.
“I even had cookies at my door that said, ‘Keep your head up.’”
The pressure to produce is tough on any kicker, at any level, but the 19-year-old Ficken was pushed into the job sooner than expected when Anthony Fera bolted to Texas after the NCAA let players transfer without penalty following the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. First-year Penn State coach Bill O’Brien has stuck with Ficken, because he has practiced better than backups Matt Marcincin and Kevin DiSanto.
“I won’t use (Fera’s late transfer) as an excuse, because you always have to be ready if you’re a key backup,” Ficken said. “It’s to the point where I know it was a rocky start to the season, but we’re moving forward.
“I can’t worry about the past.”
With that in mind, a recent Penn State fan sign read, “Stickin’ with Ficken,” in support of the sophomore.
“I’ll be fine,” Ficken said.