STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State lost a special teams ace to Texas, while two more Nittany Lions have left Happy Valley without ever playing a game for first-year coach Bill O'Brien.
Just days before the start of training camp, Penn State's roster remained in flux Thursday after the NCAA allowed players to explore transfers in light of strict sanctions against the program for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. It set up a collegiate version of free agency in which opposing teams could cherry-pick players off the NIttany Lions' roster.
Anthony Fera was the second starter to leave after the kicker-punter announced Thursday he would be booming kicks for Texas this year. The junior, who is from the Houston area, will have two years of eligibility left.
Fera said the last few weeks had been difficult. His mother was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which also factored into Fera's decision.
"Shortly before I arrived on campus, the most important person in my life was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis), making it more and more difficult to travel each weekend from Texas to see me play," Fera said in a statement released by the Longhorns. "I've been afforded the opportunity to give back to my family and make their lives a little easier by transferring to a university much closer to home, The University of Texas."
Fera's powerful right leg made him one of the top specialists in the Big Ten after hitting 14 of 17 field-goal tries and averaging 42 yards a punt last season. He said he loved Penn State, teammates, the fans and coaches — both past and present.
As of Thursday afternoon, eight players have left Penn State since the NCAA imposed penalties on July 23 , including a four-year bowl ban and significant scholarship reductions. One of those departing players, though — backup quarterback Rob Bolden — was given permission to look at other schools before the punishments were announced.
Despite the defections, Penn State noted that of the 117 players on the team's roster on July 23, 109 players, or 93 percent, had stayed as of Thursday afternoon. The count would include scholarship players and walk-ons.
The entire starting defense, including standout tackle Jordan Hill and linebackers Gerald Hodges and Mike Mauti, is expected to remain intact. Otherwise, the team has lost just two starters — though tailback Silas Redd and Fera were two of the most important players as O'Brien embarked on his rookie season as coach.
Redd, a 1,200-yard rusher, is the most crushing loss after defecting to Southern California on Tuesday. A revamped offense patterned after the potent attack at O'Brien's previous employer — the New England Patriots — may have to rely on converted wideout Bill Belton to carry the load at tailback.