Penn State Nittany Lions: Kevin Kelly

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- And then there was one.

We’ve arrived at the final stop to this week’s countdown of Penn State’s most impactful recruiting classes of the past decade. This top spot was an easy pick, as this class helped bring Penn State out of the “dark years."

No. 1 most impactful class: Class of 2005

Top prospects: QB Daryll Clark, K Kevin Kelly, CB Justin King, OT Dennis Landolt, LB Sean Lee, S Anthony Scirrotto, CB Lydell Sargeant, TE Mickey Shuler, CB Knowledge Timmons, WR Derrick Williams

[+] EnlargeSean Lee
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonCowboys LB Sean Lee helped rally Penn State from a down period as part of the Class of 2005.
Biggest surprise: Clark. listed him as a two-star prospect, and most eyes were on five-star recruit Anthony Morelli from the class before. Plus, with Michael Robinson on the roster, no one initially gave the prep-school product a second look. But Clark bided his time and broke out as an upperclassman. He led the Lions to a Rose Bowl as a redshirt junior and then, as a senior, had one of the finest seasons in PSU history with 3,003 passing yards and 24 TDs to 10 interceptions. He led the Lions to a Capital One Bowl victory over LSU in his final game.

Impact player: Lee. He was overshadowed by Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, but he was still a solid ‘backer in his own right. He was a three-year starter who finished his career within the top five of Penn State’s career tacklers. Athlon Sports even placed him in the top 25 when it came to the best Big Ten linebackers of the BCS era. He was the 2007 Alamo Bowl MVP, a team captain and now a solid NFL player for the Dallas Cowboys.

Why this class is important: This class is basically the 2013 class before 2013. This group committed during the “dark years,” back when PSU had four losing seasons scattered over five years. The Nittany Lions were fighting for a return to national prominence, and some had already written them off.

Then this class came in. King and Williams were both five-star prospects, two players near the top of the rankings, and made a national statement when they committed to Penn State. Williams was widely regarded as the country’s top athlete, and both ended up as All-Big Ten players. This class helped put an end to those dark years. Penn State made seven straight bowl games after they committed.

Landolt, Lee and Scirrotto were three-year starters. Williams and Kelly were four-year starters. And, all together, this class combined for a half-dozen first-team All-Big Ten selections. This class not only had the talent to help turn Penn State around, it helped symbolize and reinforce -- with the help of King and Williams -- PSU’s return to prominence.

More impactful recruiting classes:

No. 5: Class of 2011
No. 4: Class of 2004
No. 3: Class of 2006
No. 2: Class of 2013

Ficken improving, not dwelling on past

November, 14, 2012
Sam Ficken stared at his bedroom wall -- sometimes before brushing his teeth, other times after hours of practice -- and remembered.

The sophomore kicker had tacked a PSU-Virginia game program to that apartment wall so he couldn't forget. He didn't want to make the same mistakes. He didn't want history to repeat itself. And he didn't want his career to be defined by that 1-of-5 performance in a 17-16 loss.

[+] EnlargeSam Ficken
AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffPlace-kicker Sam Ficken walks off the field dejected after missing a last-second field goal at Virginia.
Nothing motivated him more than that magazine. But now, nine weeks after that performance, Ficken said he awakes with thoughts of the future instead of regrets about the past.

"I actually ended up taking that down about a week ago," he said. "I'm trying to move on from that game, I'm trying to forget about it. So I'm trying not to dwell."

Ficken has gone from being a constant source of disparaging Tweets and student chatter -- a kicker whom the crowd would, somewhat mockingly, scream loudly for after a converted extra point -- into a player who's made his last six field goals. Fans no longer hold their collective breath when he steps on the field, and Ficken's confidence has been rising as steadily as his field goal percentage.

"He's a very, very laid-back guy that cares about his teammates," Bill O'Brien said. "It's nice to see him improve like he has."

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5 Questions: Former kicker Kevin Kelly

October, 12, 2012
Every week, NittanyNation will pose five questions to a recruit, player, alum or coach about all things Penn State.

This week's subject is Kevin Kelly, a PSU kicker from 2005-2008 who started all four seasons. He came on with a scholarship and left by shattering the school points record. The 5-foot-7 Pennsylvania native ended his career with 425 points -- 143 points more than the No. 2 on the list, Craig Fayak.

Kelly still attends about four games a year and says he never misses a game on TV.

NittanyNation: Have you reached out to Sam Ficken at all, and just how much of a mental game is kicking?

Kevin Kelly: Yeah. I reached out to him a couple weeks ago, and we've been texting back and forth here and there. But, at this point, it's a mental thing. Being at a Division I school and being a starting kicker, especially at Penn State, it's not physical. His mistakes maybe are physical, but it's moreso a mental thing for him, and it's just something that takes time.

My freshman and sophomore years, I wasn't a good kicker. I made field goals, but I didn't make the ones that I needed to make. He's kind of in the same area, where he's growing and learning. He's gradually getting better and better, and that's what we can expect of him. As long as he's trying to fix those mistakes, that's all we can ask for.

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