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Who would ever want to be an NFL kicker?

There's nowhere to hide when you flub a kick. You're any easy target for intolerant fans. You practice on a separate field, isolated from your teammates. You're either a goat or hero. There's no in-between.

In last Sunday's Vikings-Packers slugfest, which ended in a 29-29 tie, your heart went out for Minnesota rookie Daniel Carlson after he missed a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter and kicks of 49 and 35 yards in overtime.

The disgusted look on the faces of Minnesota's coaches and players could've soured milk.

I expected Carlson's mom to run on the field and give him a comforting hug.

Next day, as expected, the kid was waived.

I repeat. Why be a kicker?

"To each his own," said Valparaiso's Sam Ficken, who was re-signed Monday by the Los Angeles Rams. "Linemen are out there getting crushed every game and their injuries are often far worse than a kicker's. Where we make our money is during critical moments in the game. We work every day to try to be ready for those moments.

"Unfortunately, failure is part of this job, too. I've been through it as well. The thing about kicking is, a lot of times, you're going to be given another opportunity. I went through a similar situation in college and it taught me a lot about myself and kicking."

Ficken's epiphany came during his three seasons as Penn State's kicker. He missed seven of his first 11 field goal attempts in 2012, including an 18-yarder, and according to an ESPN.com story, received death threats, at times, from angry fans.

He then set a school record with 15 straight conversions and fans were making cardboard signs in his honor.

"There were a lot of variables in me coming back from those darkest times," Ficken said. "I credit my teammates and our coaching staff, which was always super supportive of me. I knew my ability level and just had to put together the pieces."

Former Penn State and Bears kicking great Robbie Gould pulled Ficken from the depths of despair, became his mentor, and remains an inspiration.

"The ability to get a lot of film work in with Robbie Gould at that time was probably the most valuable thing as far as my kicking career," Ficken said.

"It's the middle of his (NFL) season, too, and he's taking time out of his working schedule to go over my film. It probably saved my kicking career, to be honest with you."

Ficken's senior year, he converted 24 of 29 field goals, with nine kicks between 40 and 50 yards.

The undrafted free agent was first signed by the Rams last December when Greg Zuerlein needed back surgery. He converted 2 of 3 field goals, 4 of 5 extra-point kicks, and was part of the Rams first NFC West title since 2003.

Ficken also had a PAT and two field goals in the 26-13 wild card loss to Atlanta.

"Sam came in and did a nice job (last season) if he does have to fill in for Greg for however long period of time that is," coach Sean McVay told reporters, via the Rams official website.

Ficken nailed all four of his field goal tries in the exhibition season and stayed in the Thousand Oaks, California, area after being waived, again, working out and waiting for the phone to ring.

"As long as you do well, most teams are aware of that," Ficken said. "There's a lot of guys in this league who early on in their career have ping-ponged around until they finally stuck somewhere. I just go out there and perform, try to crush it, and I think I did that here during the preseason.

"I certainly welcome the opportunity to be back with a really good team and help them win."

The unbeaten Rams have outscored opponents 67-13 and play the Falcons on Sunday.

Zuerlein is considered the stronger kicker but Ficken posted a video on Instagram two years ago of him booting a 65-yarder indoors at Penn State, proving he has more leg than a relay team.

"The coaching staff believes I can do the job at a very high level or they wouldn't have called me back," Ficken said.

"I'm confident I can."

Or he wouldn't be on the Rams' speed dial.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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