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Before kicker steps back and readies to take a step toward the ball his field goal attempts are met with some unusual distractions.

He will squirt me in the face with some water, he ll kind of yell right when you re about to kick, Ficken said. He ll get in your way, he ll mess with the holders, he ll wet the balls. It s for running [sprints] so there is a little bit of pressure involved in the kicks.

The one creating the distractions is Penn State head coach . Focused on improving a , one where Franklin and special teams coordinator Charles Huff want their best players contributing, has been a work in progress this spring.

The staff s desire to have all the players compete in everything they do trickles down to the specialists who face long field goals or punting challenges at the end of practice. If they don t overcome the man-made distractions and convert their kicks and punts all of the players are running eight sprints at the end. Sometimes Frankin will even raise the stakes and make it double or nothing, resulting in an amped up practice environment pitting the coaches against the players.

The first time it caught me a little off guard, the senior kicker said. But I think you know you do get distractions in games, maybe not water squirting in your eye or an air horn in your ear, but I think it does definitely help with your focus through the whole process of kicking.

The first day it was a little surprising but I ve kind of grown used to it. It s kind of a challenge I look forward to.

This winter Ficken didn t have to alter his kicking technique, something he worked on with . At ease with his approach, the two still remain in contact but not nearly as frequently as their weekly conversations last year, Ficken said. This off season Ficken worked on improving his consistency. Last season he converted 15 or 23 field-goal attempts, but missed 3 of his last 4 and went just 11-of-19 from beyond 30 yards.

The Lions were without holder for part of the season as the safety dealt with a hand injury. Keiser was replaced former punter Alex Butterworth and the transition wasn t a smooth one. During the Indiana game Butterworth let a wet ball slip through his hands, preventing the Lions from attempting a 24-yard field-goal attempt.

Franklin praised Ficken and Keiser earlier this spring and if something were to happen with Keiser that would impact his holding responsibilities redshirt would be the backup.

I think that was one of the biggest factors in my late-season struggles, Ficken said. Me and Keiser have a great connection and I think that s definitely shown in the spring. I basically picked up right where we were when he went down with the hand injury so it s definitely good to have him back.

In addition to kicking, Ficken said he s spent time during the last two months working on punting. Gulla is the lone punter on the roster and while the team will bring in a handful of walk-on specialists this summer, there is no one to back him up. It s the first time Ficken said he s worked on punting since high school and while the job is still Gulla s to lose, Ficken will continue working on his punting this summer.

I ve gotten a lot better but, I m not where I want to be, Ficken said of his punting. We only have one kicker and one punter right now so we both need to be accessible.

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