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WEST LAFAYETTE -- For another month, Purdue's Landon Feichter is a football walk-on.
Except, it seems, in his own mind. There it's forever.
“The one thing I had coming into Purdue was knowing I didn't have a name for myself,” the former Bishop Dwenger standout says. “I had to push myself that extra mile to make a name. I still have that same mentality -- to prove myself again that I'm up to the challenge.”
The redshirt sophomore safety will play in the Jan. 1 Heart of Dallas Bowl as a walk-on before going on scholarship next semester. After one season as a key reserve, and another as a game-changing starter, he's more than earned it. He led the Big Ten in interceptions, with four, including one he returned for a touchdown. He led the Boilers in tackles, with 76. He is a 6-foot, 178-pound human sledgehammer who hits beyond his size.
“He was in the right spot at the right time, he had the opportunity and he hasn't let it go,” interim head coach Patrick Higgins says. “He's admired and respected for his work ethic and for what he's done to get to this spot.”
Let others boast with me-first arrogance. Feichter doesn't seek the spotlight. Take his Big Ten-leading interception total.
“It's something I never thought would happen,” he says. “I owe it to my coaches and my teammates. Without them, it wouldn't have been possible.”
“I never judge my season off of individual stats. We had bigger and higher expectations than what we accomplished this year.”
Feichter is not the defense's biggest name. That honor goes to senior defensive tackle Kawann Short, who was named to the Associated Press All-American second team on Tuesday after a season in which he totaled 42 tackles, 14.5 for loss, six sacks four pass break ups, four blocked kicks two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
Still, Feichter shared team defensive MVP honors with Short. He also was a special teams standout.
Higgins, who spent the past two seasons as Purdue's wide receivers coach before taking over for fired head coach Danny Hope, appreciates Feichter's impact.
“He's a true player. He loves the game. He gives you everything he has. That's all you can ask. He's a very special individual.
“He's a kid you admire and look up to because he comes as a walk-on. He fights for a position and he wins that position. How do you do that? By working your tail off day in and day out.”
Feichter's work got Hope's attention. The coach had no idea what he was getting when he made the walk-on offer. The lightly recruited Feichter says he'll always be grateful.
“Coach Hope gave me the opportunity to come here. Having your coach leave isn't anything you ever want.”
Feichter says he last saw Hope at the Nov. 25 Sunday meeting after the coach was fired.
“I'll always have a relationship with Coach Hope. Since the meeting we haven't had any dialogue with him other than an email he sent out to everybody giving his cell number and email. I anticipate there will be some interaction.”
The Boilers (6-6) are two weeks into their 15 practices of preparation for Oklahoma State (7-5), an offensive powerhouse that averages 44.7 points. The underclassmen practice knowing they also are auditioning for new coach Darrell Hazell, who is finishing bowl preparations with his Kent State team before coming to West Lafayette full-time starting next month. He's only met with the players once, during a brief introduction meeting the Dec. 5 day he was officially hired.
“You're always auditioning,” Feichter says. “The position is never solidified for one player to have that spot. Every time I come to practice, it is an audition.
“It will help me push myself even more. That I have to reprove myself, which is what I've done every year. Effort-wide I don't think it will change much for me, but I'll have it in the back of my mind that I need to prove myself to somebody new.”
Purdue became bowl eligible by winning its final three games, but that didn't come close to meeting Big Ten title-winning expectations. Still, winning this final game will be huge, Feichter says.
“It would mean going into the off-season with a winning record. You're judged by how you play last, how you're seen last. It's another motivation. We'll be playing for Coach Hope and our staff, but it would be great to go 7-6 rather than 6-7.”