Brandon Felder doesn’t mind being the forgotten man.
If defenses overlook him this season — like they often did during his 31-catch, 437-yard breakout 2012 campaign — the fifth-year senior who returns as Penn State’s bona fide No. 2 wide receiver won’t take it personally.
It worked for him last fall when Purdue cornerback Antoine Lewis got caught staring at top threat Allen Robinson on a play in the third quarter. Robinson stood still off the snap.
Lewis cheated up toward the Nittany Lion playmaker — thinking he’d jump a possible wide receiver screen — and forgot to pick up slot-man Felder until it was too late. By the time Lewis recovered, flipped his hips and gave chase, Felder was already behind him hauling in a 41-yard touchdown catch.
It worked against a pair of Northwestern linebackers in the latter stages of Penn State’s come-from-behind win in Week 6. With just over five minutes to go, Penn State was desperate for a first down. On fourth-and-two, Felder ran a quick route across the middle of the field, settling between C.C. Ariguzo and Damien Proby.
Neither Wildcat linebacker picked him up and Felder bought a scrambling McGloin time by drifting further down the field where he made a 13-yard catch. Felder’s clutch grab gave Penn State a fresh set of downs and set up the winning score — a five-yard McGloin touchdown run three plays later.
In addition, Felder’s presence when he was marked in coverage helped set up Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter for career years.
“You know Allen Robinson, great receiver, and also Kyle Carter, one of the best tight ends we have in the conference,” Felder said. “Me being the second receiver, that kind of benefits me a little bit because guys don’t really worry about me that much. So I get put in positions to make plays for us.”
Felder demonstrated a knack for making big catches in timely situations. He was targeted 61 times and hauled in 31 passes last season, but not all of those missed chances were drops — although he’d like to have a few back. A non-touchdown against Wisconsin in which he tiptoed both feet in bounds as he was falling out of the back of the end zone is one. Referees consulted replay that showed Felder juggled the pass and didn’t possess it as he went out.
Still, he was a reliable target more often than not.
Sixteen of Felder’s catches went for first downs, including five of them on third- or fourth-down plays. And his size — 6-foot-2, 200 pounds — combined with his willingness to throw heavy blocks and athleticism he displayed on the near-touchdown snag against Wisconsin haven’t gone unnoticed by his coaches and teammates.
“Brandon’s had a good training camp,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “He made really some nice catches (Wednesday) in our scrimmage. I’ve always said that Brandon Felder is a very smooth route-runner. He’s a very important part of our offense and he’ll be in there quite a bit.”
And he’ll likely be all over the place — split out, in tight and definitely in the slot.
Mention the latter position to Felder and the Fort Washington, Md. native’s eyebrows shoot up. A grin creeps across his face.
“Being in the slot gives you a lot of matchups,” Felder said. “When you’re put in the slot you can either be matched up against a linebacker or a safety, so I’m pretty sure every receiver wants to be in slot.”
Now in his fifth and final year, Felder is one of eight Nittany Lions who have already earned a degree from Penn State. He took a tough path to his, struggling particularly with an accounting class that dogged him for a few semesters.
Two days before he was to receive his diploma, Felder reflected on his academic journey.
“For me, man, it’s been a long, long road, a tough road for me,” Felder said. “I was on the verge of failing out, and just having the coaches that we have here and the athletic academic staff behind me to push me, kind of helped me get through it.”
Felder was forced to put football aside. Suddenly, learning in the classroom became his primary objective ahead of learning O’Brien’s new playbook. He took more than a handful of practices off to focus on his studies and receive tutoring from Penn State’s academic support team in the accounting class.
He passed the class on his third try in the summer and earned a degree in journalism last Saturday. After the ceremony, Felder and teammate Matt Lehman, who graduated alongside him, headed back to the Lasch Building for an evening practice.
Felder is no stranger to reading coverage or lack thereof. In the future, he wants to pursue a career in the media and will be tasked with providing it. He likes to think of himself as a guy who can contribute and take on any job.
“Last year he made some big catches for us and I think he likes his role,” O’Brien said. “He’s embraced his role and he’s doing a nice job.”