Off Campus: Former kicker empathizes with Penn State's Ficken

Kicker Sam Ficken attempts a field goal against Virginia. He missed 4 of 5 attempts in Penn State's 17-16 loss.
Kicker Sam Ficken attempts a field goal against Virginia. He missed 4 of 5 attempts in Penn State's 17-16 loss. (CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE / Centre Daily Times)
Posted: September 13, 2012

Reading his Twitter feed this weekend, Andy Glockner wasn't surprised to see hate spewing toward Penn State sophomore kicker Sam Ficken after his four-miss Saturday afternoon, the key element in a 17-16 loss at Virginia.

This was even before Sam Ficken's foot got its own mock Twitter account.

Glockner typed out his own tweet: "Let the kid be."

Glockner never kicked for Penn State, but he did hold that job for the Penn Quakers, class of '94, so his empathy came from a distinct angle. He tweeted: "My career: I started 7-10 (all outside 40 yards). Went 2 for my next 11. Made 16 of my last 22. Kicking can be funny."

Another message from his 140 characters: Kickers never forget a thing.

"I could probably tell you every kick, every spot on the field, for three seasons," Glockner said on the phone Monday. "These things stick with you."

Nittany Lions fans would want to know, did he ever miss a game-winner or four in a game? Plus have an extra point blocked? Glockner had it a bit easier, he said. A former soccer player, he kicked off and took long field goals for his first two years. A teammate took the shorter ones.

"All reward, no risk," Glockner said of his role. He does remember when he missed twice and the other guy missed two more. So 0 for 4, but they split the misery, and Penn won the game, although it was much closer than it should have been. Still a tough night's sleep, he said.

"I think technical problems lead to psychological problems," Glockner said. "You miss a couple, you can't figure out why, you start tweaking. Kickers can be funny. I would walk a different way to the stadium, get different food to eat. You become a creature of habit when it's going right, and when it's a bad routine, it becomes very frustrating."

Glockner remains part of a fraternity that's almost unique in sports, in terms of the empathy that crosses team lines. There was an article in Sports Illustrated last week about this fraternity, mentioning the social media vitriol, including one kicker who got "threats on Facebook from gamblers who lost money." Glockner - now a regular contributor to SI.com, Sports Illustrated's website, specializing in basketball - obviously wasn't going to feel bad if Princeton's kicker missed one against Penn, but his empathy comes easily.

"I never really claimed to play football. I was on a football team," Glockner said. "Kicking is not like anything else in football. You have a specific skill. You know you have to do it right. Offensive tackles respected you if you did it right. But there's really no outside excuse if you miss. It's not fatigue. You're not getting hit 20 times."

After being so good his first year, Glockner said he had no idea why he was "terrible" (in his own words) the next. He did make a couple against Brown late that junior season, he said, that led him into the offseason feeling OK about himself, and for no particular reasons he was on the money again as a senior. But he knows Ficken won't easily shake last Saturday off this season.

"He picked a bad day to have a bad day," Glockner said. "It sticks with you. The kid may make his next eight, but he still will be thinking about the kick he missed against Virginia.''

Glockner obviously realizes kicking for Penn isn't the same as kicking for Penn State.

"It mattered to us for sure," he said. "But it wasn't like kicking for a national title at Florida State."

Still, considering all that has gone at Penn State, Glockner admitted to being stunned at the vitriol being directed at a 19-year-old who was supposed to be a backup until Anthony Fera transferred to Texas after the NCAA sanctions were announced at Penn State. When Glockner expressed his outrage at the outrage, retorts came back along the lines of, "Why can't we just be normal football fans?"

It isn't all ugliness toward Ficken, who had been all-state in Indiana in high school, and once kicked a 52-yarder. Ficken tweeted himself Saturday, "Appreciate all the support from teammates, friends, family, and nittany nation." Apparently realizing Nittany Nation wasn't united in that support, Ficken re-tweeted a different message Monday from teammate T.J. Rattigan: "Rise above hate."

Kicking is such a psychological existence, doesn't expressing mass social-media outrage at a kicker after a tough miss at least slightly increase the odds he will miss again?

Glockner, who lives in Colorado now, sees the same kinds of words from fan bases across the nation when the kicker misses the big one (or a bunch of ones).

"I'm kind of glad I didn't kick in this era," Glockner said. "I think the scrutiny is just unbelievable."


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus'' columns at www.philly.com/offcampus.

 

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