Texas Longhorn fans can officially remove their collective fingers from the panic button regarding the kicking game after former Penn State kicker Anthony Fera was removed from the Nittany Lion roster on Thursday morning. He will be headed home to complete his two seasons of eligibility at Texas.
Following reports that his father wanted him closer to the Fera family home in Houston, the massive need for a kicker, and the lack of anything significant to accomplish in State College due to the recently imposed sanctions, the decision from Fera seemed imminent in recent days as an overwhelmingly perfect fit for both Fera and the Longhorns, still in search of a reliable placekicker entering the season.
That buzz reached a crescendo on Wednesday night, even as Fera's return to Pennsylvania after a weekend visit to Austin did provide some slight pause in the Fera-to-Texas momentum. Only slight pause, however.
A Groza award semifinalist and Ray Guy award candidate as a sophomore, Fera earned All-Big 10 honors and was named special teams player of the week in the conference three times last season, when he made 14-of-17 field goals for an 82.4% conversion rate, including every field goal attempted from inside 40 yards, exactly the distance that Ben Pruitt and William Russ failed to convert from a collective three times in that second open practice.
After holding down all three phases of the kicking game in 2011 for the Nittany Lions, Fera should at least compete for the punting and kickoff specialist jobs, though the Texas coaches would probably prefer for someone else to emerge for the punting and kickoff roles, as departed Justin Tucker seemed to wear down at times last season handling all three duties.
Just how important is adding a kicker? The Longhorns have won eight games on last-second kicks in the Mack Brown era, with no misses. As the game against Texas A&M proved last fall, and all those other games have proved in other years, having a reliable kicker late in the game is crucial to pulling out those victories.
If such a scenario presents itself in 2012, it looks like Texas will now be in good shape to convert those opportunities. And that is cause for a huge sigh of relief.