WEST LAFAYETTE -- Purdue safety Landon Feichter made a big play. Do not doubt, for a moment, the significance.
Yes, it was only a practice interception, coming against freshman quarterback Danny Etling in an 11-on-11 drill without pads.
No matter. On a defense that stresses forcing turnovers, with questions lingering about a busted hand that cost Feichter most of spring practice, it's a big deal. It reflects the senior safety is braced for a big follow-up to a big junior season.
Coach Darrell Hazell can't wait to see it.
“He's going to be a good player. We've got to keep him healthy. He's such a quarterback back there at the safety position. He gets guys lined up. He's constantly communicating. He has great range. He plays with such intensity. He plays downhill.”
Hazell pauses before repeating.
“He's going to be a good player.”
Last year Feichter, a former Bishop Dwenger standout, led Purdue with 80 tackles, 14 more than any other Boiler. His four interceptions tied for the Big Ten lead.
You might think that's a big deal, but you don't think like Feichter.
“It's short-term memory,” he says. “You can't have that in the back of your mind. It was all last year. It's a new season. The defense puts me in situations to make plays. I have to live up to those plays.”
Feichter's impact is especially impressive considering he arrived as a walk-on five years ago amid former coach Danny Hope's confusion. Hope thought Feichter was related to former Boilermakers Randy and Ross Fichtner, so he offered a walk-on opportunity.
Feichter has taken full advantage with a physical style that transcends his 6-foot, 188-pound size. He's paid the price with a shoulder injury along with a broken hand. Still, nobody wants him to back off.
“Absolutely not,” Hazell says. “He's got to play with aggression, speed and passion.”
Or, as Feichter says, “I love throwing my body around.”
Most defenses are designed for linebackers to lead in tackles. Hazell says he doesn't mind if Feichter does it again -- with limits.
“It depends on where he's making them. If he's making them as a 2-yard gain, I'm fine with that. If he's making them 12 yards down the field, I'm not fine with that.
“But the scheme of the defense, where we're playing a lot of corner coverage where he's a downhill player, he should make those 3-to-4-yard plays.”
Feichter and fellow veteran safety Taylor Richards face a heavy leadership burden, which matches their experience, secondary coach Jon Heacock says.
“In all fairness, those guys have had a lot of reps. They have to know what I'm thinking. As we get into this process, I'll be in the press box (during games). They already have to be able to fix problems. That's what I expect of them.
“When you have two veterans out there, you don't have time for, Hey, we'll draw it up on the chalkboard. By the time to gets to the chalkboard, the band is playing and it will be the other team's (score). We don't have time. They have to fix the problems on the field. That's what a Landon can do. That's what Taylor has to do. That's what we're counting on them to do.”
Feichter embraces the leadership opportunity.
“I think it's a natural thing that comes about,” he says. “Nobody has ever told me to be that leader. I take it in stride. It's something I like doing. I like being vocal. I like helping people out. They do the same thing for me. They help me out more than I help them out.”
Feichter says he expects good things from himself, the defense and the team. The hand injury, which required surgically inserted screws to fix, limited some of his preparation, but not his drive.
“When you get an injury, you want to come back, and I pushed myself harder.
“I'm not where I want to be. There's always room for improvement.”
Like Hazell, he pauses before repeating himself.
“I have a lot of room to improve.”