Soccer really wasn't working out for Sam Ficken.
"I played soccer my freshman and sophomore years,'' Ficken said. "A week before my junior season, I was told I was going to be on the JV team again, so I decided to give football a try.
"It turned out to be a pretty good decision.''
In just his second year, Ficken, a senior at Valaparaiso High School, was named Indiana Class 5A first-team all-state. Then, last Friday, Penn State came through with a scholarship offer, which Ficken quickly accepted to become the 11th member of the Nittany Lions' 2011 recruiting class and possibly the heir apparent to Collin Wagner as the team's place-kicker.
"I'd been in contact with Penn State for about four months. I knew they needed a kicker,'' Ficken said. "Coach [Mike] McQueary came out to see me [last] Tuesday. He said they really liked me and were thinking they could offer me a scholarship, but he had to check with Coach [Joe] Paterno to see if the numbers would work out.
"Friday, I got an unexpected phone call. As soon as they told me they were offering, I accepted.''
Ficken already had gotten a scholarship offer from Akron. Michigan, Ohio State and Colorado were in the mix, as well.
Ficken was 13-for-21 on field goals in his career, booting a school record 52-yarder, a 50-yarder and a 47-yarder among 10 makes his senior year. He also recorded touchbacks on two-thirds of his kickoffs and averaged more than 37 yards per punt.
"Sam's a really special athlete,'' said Todd Van Keppel, who has been coaching kickers throughout northern Indiana for 25 years. "There's only been one other athlete I've seen come through here that was near his ability, and he didn't have as strong a leg.''
Ficken turned to Van Keppel, who kicked for Bill Mallory at Northern Illinois and had a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys, for guidance after a good junior season.
"His junior year, he kicked off a 1-inch tee. This year, he kicked off the ground,'' Van Keppel said. "The sky's the limit for him.''
Although Ficken originally played soccer, he said he's always liked football.
"I came out for the team as a kicker and a wide receiver. But the coach decided he didn't want to risk me getting hurt,'' Ficken said.
Ficken has been told he'll have a chance to compete with Anthony Fera to take over for the graduated Wagner on placements as a true freshman, while Fera will likely continue to handle the punting and kickoffs.
"The scholarship helped [me choose Penn State], but, when I went to the Michigan game, the atmosphere was unbelievable,'' Ficken said. "Getting to play for Coach Paterno is an incredible opportunity.''