WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Landon Feichter can't stand watching Purdue football practice. Let's make that clear. Wearing a DO-NOT-HIT green jersey during a recent workout is only slightly more acceptable than wearing a dress.
For the record, the former Bishop Dwenger standout has not morphed from a safety to a quarterback.
December shoulder surgery has left him a spring practice spectator, and he treats it the enthusiasm usually reserved for a root canal, a procedure he might some day perform given his pre-dentistry major.
“You have no idea how frustrating it is,” Feichter says. “Practicing is something I've always done, hurt or healthy. Having a coach tell me I'm not able to do a drill, it's no fun at all. Watching everybody else go while I stand there and get tight, it's tough.”
To understand how tough, you have to understand how Feichter went from a Purdue walk-on to a scholarship player who totaled 25 tackles while playing in all 13 games last season as a redshirt freshman. In fact, if it wasn't for some confusion over his last name and true identity, Feichter might not be a Boiler at all.
Flash back a couple of years ago. Feichter had wrapped up an all-state Dwenger career and was looking for a college football opportunity. Purdue coach Danny Hope was in Fort Wayne for an alumni function. Hope knew of a Ross Fichtner (pronounced FEEKner), a former Purdue standout defensive back from the late 1950s who played in the NFL for eight seasons, mostly with the Cleveland Browns. There also was a Randy Fichtner, a former Boiler coach.
Feichter is not related to either man. His name is pronounced FIIIKter, but someone at the function mispronounced it when mentioning him to Hope.
“They asked if this FEEKner boy could walk on to our team,” Hope says. “I wasn't sure who he was, but I knew who the Fichtners were, so I said absolutely. I went to our staff and said we had to hold a spot for Landon, who I figured was probably Ross's grandson or second nephew or something.”
As it turned out, Hope figured wrong. Feichter came to August camp and Hope, still thinking of the Fichtner connection, greeted him.
“I told him I knew his dad and grand dad, Randy and Ross, and he gave me a funny look,” Hope says. “He didn't know what I was talking about. I said, you're related to the Fichtners. He said, no, I'm Feichter.”
“So if somebody hadn't pronounced his name incorrectly,” he says with a laugh, “he might not be here today.”
Nobody is laughing now. Feichter figures to see significant playing time once he gets healthy.
“He's very fast,” Hope says. “He's a good hitter. He's very aggressive. He surprised us in a lot of ways.”
The 6-foot, 178-pound Feichter was as surprised as anyone over last year's playing time that included an eight-tackle performance against Notre Dame. He was on every special team as well as playing in the secondary.
“It was a lot more than I thought I'd get,” he says. “Coming in as a walk-on here, you don't expect to get that kind of time until your fourth or fifth year. I felt blessed. I knew the playbook pretty well. That worked in my favor.
“I loved it all. The best part was the special teams. You just get to go head to head with somebody. I enjoy it so much. That's what I missed the most right now.”
Feichter hurt his right shoulder in last August's preseason camp, but played with the injury until Purdue's season ended with a Little Caesar's Bowl victory over Western Michigan in Detroit. He had surgery two days later.
“They told me it would be a four- to five-month recovery to get to 100 percent,” he says. “I'm allowed to catch passes and get my footwork back, but we're trying to stay away from contact.”
Feichter does limited weight lifting, mostly with his lower body and left arm.
“Once I get cleared to go full go, I'll be ecstatic.”
The safety positions are wide open after the graduation of Albert Evans and Logan Link (who is back as a grad assistant). Senior Max Charlot, the starting nickel back, and Feichter return. So does E.J. Johnson, who saw limited action last season because of injuries. Cornerbacks Normondo Harris and Taylor Richardson also could be in the mix.
“We're going to have to have two safeties come up and step forward and take those roles,” Feichter says.
One adjustment is learning new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar's scheme.
“I'm trying to wrap my head around the playbook,” Feichter says. “And I have to tackle better. There were a couple of times last year when guys broke away from my tackles.”
Hope says Feichter is positioned for a special teams role as well as secondary work.
“He has to get healthy because there's a lot of competition in our secondary,” Hope says. “It's a very talented group. If Landon had not gotten hurt, he'd be in the rotation right now. He has to earn a spot.
“Last year he earned his time. He did a great job on the scout team, so we put him on special teams and then in the secondary some.”
Feichter says he won't take much of a break after the spring semester ends.
“We'll get a week off. I'll most likely go back to Fort Wayne and spend some time with my family. I don't get to do that much. Then we'll come back and get right back into it.”
The Boilers hope that ending last season with a two-game winning streak, over rival Indiana and Western Michigan, and finishing with the first winning record (7-6) of the three-year Hope era builds momentum for this coming season.
“We're keeping our heads up and our hopes high,” Feichter said.