The Penn State punter/kicker was held out of preseason practice after receiving a citation for purchase of alcohol by a minor early in the summer, his second alcohol-related offense of the year. He was also held out of the Nittany Lions' first game of 2011, a home win over Indiana State.
Fera took over as Penn State's punter and kickoff specialist against Alabama in the second week of the season. For the past two games, he has added placement specialist to his list of jobs.
After drilling three of four field goals and averaging 39 yards per punt in a win at Indiana last Saturday, the Houston native was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.
He is thankful for the sudden turn of fortune.
“It's meant a lot,” Fera said. “I've had to face some adversity and just … everything that happened in the past is in the past. You take every day, day by day, and try to overcome everything and go out there and do your best every week.”
On a conference call with reporters, Fera did his best to deflect questions about his crazy summer. Time and again he said he was “focusing on the future.”
When asked specifically if he ever feared he would be kicked off the team, he replied, “Like I said, you just have to learn from the past, focus on the future and hopefully everything works out the way you want it to. Everything is working out so far. I made a mistake. I just have to learn from it. Everything is going great now and I couldn't be happier.”
After head coach Joe Paterno learned of the second violation during the summer, he spoke to Fera. According to Fera, the coach spelled out what the punishment would be -- and it included missing preseason camp. While not allowed to practice with the team, Fera worked out on his own.
“I kicked in my free time,” he said. “I kicked two days a week. Three days I worked out at a local gym (where) I got a membership.”
His contact with the coaching staff was limited at the time.
“I just had to wait for Joe to call me,” Fera said. “He told me what my punishment was. I had to man up and take the punishment as it was and not argue with it and just come back when he allowed me to.”
Fera was the full-time punter in 2010, and averaged a solid 41.4 yards per attempt. So there was little doubt he'd reclaim that job once he emerged from the doghouse.
But he had not worked seriously as a place-kicker since redshirting as a true freshman in 2009. And with Penn State bringing in scholarship freshman kicker Sam Ficken this year -- not to mention Lewis' move -- it appeared to be a long shot for Fera to punt and kick.
Through three games, however, the Lions were 1 of 6 on field-goal attempts, with Lewis going 4 of 5. So Fera, who was an All-America kicker in high school, got the call.
Against Eastern Michigan two weeks ago, he became the first Penn State player to kick, punt (not counting pooches) and kickoff in a game since Chris Bahr in 1975. Then he had his big game against Indiana.
For the season, Fera is 4 of 5 on field goals, his only miss a 52-yarder into the wind at Indiana. He is averaging 43.6 yards per punt and 63.4 yards per kickoff, with a pair of touchbacks.
Paterno is glad he stuck by the kicker.
“I try not to overreact but yet to make sure that both he and the rest of the squad understands that there are certain things that we just can't tolerate,” he said. “Not only for the good of the squad, but more importantly for his own good.”
And because Paterno did not give up on him, Fera has had a chance to go from doing nothing with the team to handling three very important jobs, all in a matter of weeks. The key to succeeding, he said, has been to avoid overexerting himself.
“You obviously can't go out there and do all three every single day,” Fera said. “I do punts on Monday, kick field goals on Tuesday and do all three on Thursday. But I'm not doing a lot of repetitions.”
Though he had to endure a rocky spring and summer, Fera insists he has no regrets about traveling so far from home to play his college ball. Of course, the view of Happy Valley is much better from the penthouse than it was from the doghouse.
“I'm really happy I found Penn State and I'm glad I made the decision to come here,” he said.