Last week, Penn State head coach James Franklin revealed his three choices to accompany him in Chicago for the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon and Media Days, July 28-29 in Chicago.
Among the 14 teams in the conference, each bringing three player representatives for the two-day event, Ficken is the only kicker set to attend. Additionally, an informal survey of Penn State beat writers and sports information personnel suggests that Ficken could be the first Nittany Lion kicker to be selected for the honor if not the first within the past two decades.
"Obviously it's pretty big," Ficken says. "I think I have quite a bit of experience, up and down. I can teach the other specialists. While I can't relate to some of the players because of my position, if they have a bad game, obviously I can still be there to say, 'Hey, don't worry about it, shake it off.'
"Obviously, everyone has their ups and downs but it's definitely a big time honor and I'm really excited to represent the team."
A native of nearby Valparaiso, Ind., roughly an hour's drive from Chicago, Ficken called the honor a homecoming of sorts, but the selection by Franklin speaks to something much bigger than a cool story or convenient excuse to take a player to his hometown.
Rather, Ficken is an important piece of the Nittany Lions' hopes for success through the 2014 season, expected to contribute with his performance and his leadership capabilities.
No doubt Ficken expects the same of himself in the season ahead and, participating in the drills and workouts every other Nittany Lion has this offseason, the evolution of a player that began his career as an unwitting goat has transformed into a critical team component.
"When the big events happened here, I don't want to say I wasn't ready for it because, I had all the ability in the world but I didn't really have that game time experience. I've obviously played in a few games before that, but nothing where I was the guy," he said. "Learning from everything I can, obviously I had a great support system around me, the coaching staff has been great. Robbie (Gould) has helped me a ton. Coach Huff has been awesome. So I'm extremely excited about this upcoming season."
Frequently cited as being one of the most improved players on Penn State's roster, Ficken was an honorable-mention All-Big Ten recipient last season, knocking home 15-of-23 field goal attempts and 41-of-42 PATs to go on top of his school record 15-consecutive made field goal records set in 2013.
That said, Ficken said he is looking to improve upon a season-ending downturn that saw him make just 8-of-15 attempts in October and November.
"I'm extremely confident. I've had a great offseason," he said. "Getting (holder Ryan) Keiser back is big for me. Obviously I kind of struggled at the end of the year.
"I wasn't happy about it myself, but I think with the work I put in this spring and continuing in the summer, I'm extremely confident and looking forward to what we can do on special teams this year."
- Ficken had only positive things to say about the team's Australian import at punter, Daniel Pasquariello.
"I've definitely been impressed," Ficken said. "He's coming from a background where kicking that - I guess it's not a football, but very similar - and obviously you can kind of tell he's only been kicking a football for about a year but I've been extremely impressed with him so far."
Having taken reps at punter alongside Chris Gulla in the spring due to the departure of senior Alex Butterworth, Ficken said Saturday afternoon he was confident that between Gulla and three true freshmen punters in Pasquariello, Robby Liebel and Joey Julius, he would be an absolute last resort at punter this season.
"I worked a little bit with it in the spring. Obviously I'm not as good as those other guys at it. I haven't punted for three and a half years, since high school basically. So going in and just being able to manage if that situation arises, being able to get the ball down the field obviously is kind of important. But I kind of knew the whole time, the only way I'm going in there is if someone goes down. So I'm not too worried about it but definitely keeping it in the back pocket."