Penn State kicker Sam Ficken started his career in rocky fashion.
On September 8 of 2012, he missed four of five field goal attempts at Virginia. One of those came in the final seconds of the 17-16 loss to the Cavaliers. But despite those woes, his head coach Bill O'Brien stuck with Ficken.
"After I had a really rough game at Virginia, first and foremost, he went up to the media and said 'It's not Sam Ficken's fault we lost the game,'" Ficken said on Wednesday at the Combine. "And that means a lot. Especially given the circumstances. I was struggling in my own capacity. So for him to kind of back me up, and not to say that it wasn't my fault. It certainly was. Just to have the support of him."
O'Brien was the head coach in Happy Valley for two seasons, guiding the Nittany Lions to a 15-9 record in that span. Ficken and O'Brien finished that first season, post-Joe Paterno, with the kicker drilling 10 straight field goals, including a gamewinner in overtime at Wisconsin. Ficken said O'Brien's leadership with him, and the team as a whole was "incredible", and that he's not surprised at all the head coach transitioned to the NFL successfully.
"I think that goes full circle to really every position," Ficken said. "He expected you to perform at the highest level of your ability. I think that obviously translated well over to the NFL."
Ficken, who made 24 of 29 field goal attempts in 2014, said O'Brien was the perfect man for the Penn State job in 2012.
"He was an incredible leader," Ficken said. "You could just see that, given the circumstances, once he came into, he didn't back away from anything. He made no excuses. That's something you kind of look for in those tough times."
Ficken joined Marc Vandermeer for a 1-on-1 interview on Texans 24. He said his experiences at Penn State will serve him well in life, and perhaps, the NFL.
A behind the scenes look at Wednesday's activities at the NFL combine.