Steelers OL Matt Feiler takes road less traveled to NFL career
In a few weeks, hundreds of high school football players will take to fields all over Western Pennsylvania to begin to prepare for the upcoming season.
It would be asking a lot for one of them to become the next Aaron Donald, the former Penn Hills star who is the NFL’s most dominant defensive lineman. It might be a stretch to pencil one in as the next Tyler Boyd, the ex-Clairton standout who is one of the league’s rising stars at wide receiver.
Seeing one of them as the next Matt Feiler? That doesn’t seem so far out of the question.
Make no mistake: Feiler, 27, is an elite athlete. He’s a 6-foot-6, 331-pound behemoth who can play any position on the offensive line. Remember that home run derby the Pittsburgh Steelers had at training camp last year? Feiler won it.
It’s his path to the NFL that makes Feiler a role model for unheralded players everywhere.
Feiler was born in Strasburg in Lancaster County, a town of about 2,800. He was lightly recruited out of Lampeter-Strasburg, a high school whose most famous alumni are Jeff Bianchi, an infielder who played in parts of four seasons in the big leagues, and James Wolpert, a singer who appeared on The Voice.
He went to NCAA Division II Bloomsburg, a PSAC program nestled between high school powerhouses Berwick and Southern Columbia in the north-central part of the state.
That’s where the magic happened.
Feiler became part of a running-game juggernaut. His classmate, Franklyn Quiteh, is the second-leading rusher in D-II history with 7,523 yards. Twice in Feiler’s four years, Bloomsburg had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers.
“We were the classic power-I formation, hit the hole and go, a lot of play-action, not much drop-back passes,” Feiler said. “Downhill, run at you, no BS kind of stuff.”
When the time came for Feiler to consider whether he had a chance to make it in the NFL, he had a role model. Jahri Evans, a six-time Pro Bowl guard with the Saints, was a few years ahead of him at Bloomsburg.
“We called him a freak when we were watching him on film,” said Feiler, who went undrafted in 2014. “His work ethic, the way he carries himself, everything he does, it was fun to watch.”
Evans is far from the only PSAC athlete to go on to great acclaim in the NFL, of course. The conference produced a Hall of Famer, former Buffalo Bills receiver Andre Reed.
Among active players, Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes, a Shippensburg grad, is a four-time Pro Bowler. Eric Kush, a Chartiers Valley grad out of Cal (Pa.), started seven games at guard for the Bears last season and signed with the Browns in March. The Vulcans trio of defensive backs Erik Harris (Oakland Raiders) and C.J. Goodwin (Dallas Cowboys) and tight end Paul Butler (Raiders) was in the league last year, as well.
Brandon Fusco, a former Slippery Rock and Seneca Valley offensive lineman, started 87 games over eight seasons. He’s a free agent.
“People don’t really expect much out of you because you go through college and maybe you don’t have the speed or size that D-I players come out with,” said Feiler, who began his career with the Houston Texans before being claimed off waivers by the Steelers in 2015. “You’re kind of already below the curve there, I guess you could say. It’s being overlooked by everybody, like a, ‘Who are you? Where are you from?” type of thing. That’s one of the biggest challenges, I think.”
Feiler overcame that challenge to become a regular on the Steelers offensive line last season. When camp opens in Latrobe later this month, he’ll be a contender — if not the favorite — to nail down the starting right tackle job.
He’ll approach that battle the same way he has faced every challenge football has thrown at him to date.
“Just gotta keep my head down, keep moving forward and keep working hard,” Feiler said. “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .