Our summer tour of FBS schools looks at the specialists for the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Kicker: Sam Ficken, junior (Valparaiso, IN / Valparaiso HS)
In his first season as the Nittany Lions' placekicker, Ficken ended the year with his first collegiate game-winning kick, a 37-yard field goal for a thrilling 24-21 Senior Day victory. He finished the season by connecting on his last 10 field goal attempts, including a 3-of-3 effort against the Badgers to earn Big Ten Special Teams Player-of-the-Week accolades for the first time in his career. Ficken led the Nittany Lions in scoring last year with 81 points, hitting 14-of-21 field goals, while handling all kickoff duties.
"With the early season struggles, my confidence was kind of up and down. But near the end of the year, I was thinking I was going to make every kick, and that really helped me. I've built on that in the offseason, and getting my fundamentals like perfect, my mechanics perfect. I'm kicking as best as I've ever had....
I can kick it a little bit farther; I've gotten stronger, and I've shorten my steps down and kind of taken out that room for error that I've kind of struggled with.The mindset ... knowing that I've been really successful in high school, I know I can hit 50-yarders in college. I remember what's good, and forget what's bad."
“I squat, I bench, and I do all of the other lifts that they do. I also do some band work to try and get the hip flexors as strong as possible and we also do quite a bit of core. A lot of people think it is all about your quad muscles, but it is a lot of your abs, hips and groins. Right now, I feel a lot stronger than I did last season....Kicker/punter: Chris Gulla, freshman (Toms River, NJ / Toms River North HS)
It is very key to have a good relationship with your holder. I get [Ryan] Keiser back this year so I am really excited about that and we also have Anthony Alosi snapping so that is a change from last year. As a group we are a lot more confident this year than we were last season so we are really looking forward to what is to come this year....
All the specialists come our early just like we do before a game. I’ll warm up by doing no-step kicks just swinging my leg and then I’ll do one-step kicks to kind of get that motion going before I do full steps. After that, we’ll have a specialist period where the whole unit gets together and after that, we’ll do either kickoff or punt drills. After that we go with the entire squad before doing kickoffs and punts followed by kickoff returns and punt returns.”
"Gulla, an all-state selection as a senior at Toms River North, could be a factor as a kicker and punter early in his career. He averaged 42 yards per punt his senior season and converted 17 of 22 field goal attempts."
"I have been really working hard this off season, put on some weight and strength in the weight room. Looking forward to my first year with Penn State."Kicker: Kevin DiSanto, junior (State College, PA / State College Area HS)
High school: DiSanto made five field goals his senior season and converted 20 extra point attempts. On kickoffs DiSanto totaled 1,01 yards on 24 kickoffs, an average of 43.8 yards per kickoff.Punter: Alex Butterworth, senior (Indianapolis, IN / Heritage Christian HS)
Butterworth was the only Nittany Lion to punt the ball last year and was a key factor in helping the nationally-ranked defense, and changing the field position. He dropped 19 kicks inside the 20-yard line and had only two touchbacks in 2012, forcing the opposition to start a multitude of drives deep in their own territory. Butterworth averaged 37.4 yards on his 51 punts last year, delivering five punts of 50 yards or more, topped by a 58-yard effort against Ohio State.
"We've been doing a lot of elastic band work and hip sled work. We've focused on our core and our hip strength, and I think that's helped us a lot....
It's going to be nice to have a little competition [Gulla]. Last year I didn't really have anybody backing me up, didn't really have anybody who could check me out, see if I'm doing something wrong. So it's going to be nice to have someone else punting the ball with me, and doing it competitively. I'm excited about it."
"I felt like a got a handle on a lot of the situational kicks... and a lot of the farther kicks which is what I was struggling with last year. So I've been really maintaining to carrying that over to the summer, and taking it from summer into fall....Most of the mechanics with punting is the drop. I've lowered my drop a little bit to get that farther kick. I've also kind of slowed down my swing. Not necessarily the pace of my punt, but more the swing so that when the ball gets to contact it's at the perfect spot. And I feel like I'm real comfortable with that pace. My timing is good, and I just have to maintain it until the fall and have a really good season."OL/long snapper: Ty Howle, senior (Wake Forest, NC / Bunn HS)
2012: Howle played in the final nine games of the season, starting in the Senior Day victory over Wisconsin. He missed the first three contests as he rehabilitated a pectoral injury. He returned to the field against Temple and resumed his assignment as long snapper on all placements.OL/long snapper: Anthony Alosi, junior (Marlton, NJ / The Hun School/Cherokee)
2012: moved from defensive tackle to the offensive line. He was a member of the Dirty Show (scout team)Long snapper: Tyler Yazujian, freshman (Royersford, PA / Spring-Ford HS)
Long snapper: Sean Corcoran, freshman (Kankakee, IL / Bishop McNamara)
LB/long snapper: Glenn Carson, senior (Manahawkin, NJ / Southern Regional HS)
Spring Game: postgame by head coach Bill O'Brien
"I believe the kicking game is better. What we did today was I had (Alex) Butterworth as the holder. No excuse there, but I wanted Alex to hold there. Ryan Keiser's the starting holder and we'll go back and look at that. As I said last year, it's all about the operation there. It's the snap, it's the hold, it's a lot more than just the kicker. I know Sam Ficken is an improved kicker since the Wisconsin game. I have confidence in him. I thought Alex Butterworth at the beginning of the game, punted the ball well. I think he's improved and he'll punt better for us this year than he did last year."