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October 20, 2011

Just kicking it

For the second time in three games, Anthony Fera was honored as the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.

On Tuesday, he was quick to downplay that honor.

"I just think it's an advantage for me because I am doing all three kicking duties," he said.

Advantage? Or the reason?

Cited this past summer for underage drinking and disorderly conduct, Fera has returned to the team following a one-game suspension and has since assumed the responsibilities of kicking the field goals, punts, kickoffs and extra points. The change has reinvigorated a once-struggling special teams unit.

And the Big Ten has taken notice. Said Fera, "I'm pretty happy with that."

It is hard to ignore his importance to the Penn State team. Fera made his long awaited return against Alabama in week two but solely handled the punting duties. But it was a quick, yet vast improvement.

His temporary stand-ins averaged just 38 yards per punt in the season-opener. Since then, Fera is averaging nearly 44 yards, including a 69-yard boomer in the fourth quarter that was downed at the 2-yard line last week against Purdue - something the Lions, "practice all the time."

But it wasn't until week four when he assumed the three-part kicking role. Before that, the Lions' kickers - Evan Lewis and Sam Ficken - combined for just two made field goals over seven attempts, including a missed PAT. In the four games since, Fera has only missed one try, and that was from 52 yards out.

Less than 50 yards and the kid has been lights out, converting on all nine of his attempts.

"He is such a great player," Nate Stupar said. "He is very accurate, and he does have such a powerful leg."

Last week in a turbulent atmosphere with wind gusts flirting around 50 miles per hour, Fera put his accuracy and that "powerful leg" on display. He went three for three on field goals, including a season-long of 40 yards. Adding that performance to his punting average of 44.5 yards, Stupar said the Cypress, Texas native was the obvious choice for the Big Ten honor.

"He was a huge part of our last game against Purdue, hitting those huge field goals in a very windy game," Stupar said. "He is very calm under pressure, and he is never fazed by anything."

Kicking into and with the wind is something that he has learned over time from multiple coaches, but his calm, cool and collective nature is something that cannot be coached. No matter how many try.

Fera has been mentored by some of the nation's most prominent kicking coaches (Chris Sailer who kicked for UCLA, Brandon Kornblue who kicked for Michigan and Jaime Kohl who kicked for Iowa State).

But while he is in school, he has an array of Penn State's assistant coaches helping him out.

"Coach (Larry) Johnson works with me on punting," Fera explained. "Coach (Mike) McQueary helps with field goals and coach (Kermit) Buggs helps with kickoffs."

Though it may seem confusing, he insists that having three coaches assist with special teams rather than a single coordinator doesn't bother him.

And who is to argue?

With two Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors, an improving punt average and a near-perfect field goal record, he must be doing something right in Happy Valley.

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