In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal that gripped Penn State for the better part of a year, kicker Anthony Fera, like the rest of his teammates, had a choice to make in the summer of 2012.
On one hand, he could stick it out in Happy Valley and finish the remainder of his career without ever going to another bowl game again, thanks to the four-year bowl ban the NCAA had just levied the school. Or, he could transfer and take advantage of the NCAA’s decision, in the wake of the case, to waive the rule that forces transfers to sit out a year at their new schools.
Fera, who made 14 of 17 field goals as a sophomore in 2011, decided to transfer, along with 14 other Nittany Lions.
However, Cypress, Texas, native says the driving force behind his decision was a desire to be closer to his mother, Donna, who is battling multiple sclerosis.
“At the time, it wasn’t really good, her hands and feet were getting really numb,” Fera said. “It was difficult for her to travel up to Penn State — a three-hour flight and a three-hour drive. I wanted them to be able to come see my games. Being at the University of Texas was a lot closer.”
In fact, Fera says the Sandusky situation had little to do with his decision to leave. On his way out of Penn State, he issued a statement on his way out offering support for his former teammates.
“No, I loved Penn State,” Fera said. “I still do. I went back one time and everyone was very welcoming. I loved my time there and I would still go back.”
The decision turned out well for Fera, who bounced back after an injury-plagued 2012 season at Texas to connect on 20 of 22 field goals in 2013, including a 6-of-8 mark from 40 yards or more. He also handled punting duties for the Longhorns, compiling a 40.7-yard average and dropping 32 punts inside the 20. The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder merged as a good enough prospect to be invited to the NFL combine in February.
However, you can argue Fera’s departure has not worked out as well for the Nittany Lions, especially early on. His replacement, Sam Ficken got off to a rocky start to the 2012 season, missing six of his first eight kicks, including four in a brutal early-season loss to Virginia.
While Ficken struggled, Fera — who was watching from a distance — says he heard about it from Penn State fans.
“I was getting threats and stuff — hate mail, everything,” Fera said. “I was like, ‘I was not the one that missed!’ Every time he would miss a field goal, they would come at me. They even did it this past year.”
Fera said the anger took him by surprise.
“I thought I left on a good note,” Fera said. “Maybe not at the best time, but I think I left on a good note and had legitimate reasons to leave. If I didn’t have that family issue I absolutely would have stayed. I loved Penn State. It’s where I signed up to play and wanted to finish my career. But family comes first.”
Fera said his former teammates understood, though Ficken’s early struggles didn’t help.
“When Ficken started missing a couple, they were a little mad,” Fera said with a laugh. “I still talk to them. I lived in a house with nine guys, so we were all pretty close. I still talk to them. They don’t hate me or anything.”
Fera has no regrets about the decision, and really, he has no reason to. He thrived at Texas, got to be closer to his mom and is now one step closer to playing in the NFL.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t occasionally think about what would have happened had he stayed at Penn State, which went 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 in 2013. In Fera’s absence, Ficken converted 14 of 21 field goals in 2012 and 15 of 23 in 2013.
“We would have had a great team,” Fera said. “Sam Ficken had a ton of opportunities. Those could have been my opportunities.
“(But) looking back, I think that Texas worked out for me, and that was the best option.”Top five prospects for the Chiefs
1. Anthony Fera, 6-1, 211, Texas
Four-year starter who made 20-of-22 field goals with a long of 50 in 2013. Also had 75 punts for an average of 40.7 yards, including 32 inside the 20-yard line.
Has experience as a punter. Also has experience in poor conditions. Is accurate and consistent. Durability is a minor question after hip and groin injuries derailed his 2012 season.
2. Chris Boswell, 6-2, 185, Rice
Four-year starter who made 14-of-21 field goals with a long of 56 in 2013. Also had 57 touchbacks.
Has very good leg strength — can regularly boot touchbacks and his range extends to 60 yards, as his 13 career field goals over 50-plus yards would attest. Has missed some field goals in close games. Had four kicks blocked in his career.
3. Zach Hocker, 6-0, 189, Arkansas
Four-year starter who made 13-of-15 field goals with a long of 54 in 2013. Also had 34 touchbacks.
Has a compact kicking stroke with range over 50 yards, though he doesn’t have the strongest leg. Had three kicks blocked in college.
4. Cairo Santos, 5-8, 164, Tulane
Four-year starter who made 16-of-23 field goals with a long of 56 in 2013. Also had 47 touchbacks. Won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s best kicker in 2012.
Has made pressure kicks and is consistent. Has range up to 60 yards.
5. Carey Spear, 5-9, 190, Vanderbilt
Three-year starter who made 15-of-19 field goals with a long of 54 in 2013. Also had 47 touchbacks.
Is the rare kicker who is active on kickoffs — has racked up some big hits during his career. Has range beyond 50 yards.
*All rankings and evaluations are a composite of those done by NFL.com, ESPN.com’s and the 2014 Draft Nasty Manual. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to the resources listed above.