Months after coming to Penn State as a preferred walk-on, Alex Butterworth will become the Nittany Lions starting punter.
Butterworth is filling in for Anthony Fera, who will miss the final two games of the regular season and possibly more after he underwent emergency surgery to remove his appendix Wednesday. Team spokesman Jeff Nelson said Fera is OK but will not play against Indiana or Michigan State.
Butterworth sent a text message to his former high school coach at Heritage Christian in Indianapolis, Ind., confirming he will be punting noon Saturday when Penn State faces Indiana at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
“He’s traveled for the games this year and has been able to get mentally prepared for the atmosphere of an adverse environment,” said Ron Qualls, Butterworth’s former high school coach. “He’s a team kid and he always has been, but he’s the next man up, so he’s got to step up.”
Qualls said he doubts Butterworth will be handling kickoffs — a duty Fera also performed — but said the freshman’s leg is strong enough to do so. Kicker Collin Wagner handled the kickoff duties last season, and though he attempted just one this year, which was an onside kick against Alabama, it appears Wagner will do both kickoffs and place kicking.
Butterworth chose Penn State last May after being recruited by Purdue since his sophomore year. The coaching staff told him he would earn a scholarship if he won the starting job, though it’s unlikely these circumstances would place him on scholarship.
Qualls said he doesn’t worry about Butterworth preparing on short notice, but the only dilemma facing the Heritage Christian head coach is trying to find flights and hotel arrangements in Washington, D.C., so he can watch Butterworth punt Saturday.
“With Alex punting, it’s even more added incentive to go to the game,” said Qualls, a graduate of Indiana. “I wish there was a way I could wear a reversible jacket or something for both IU and Penn State, but blood is thicker than water, and Alex is like blood.”