ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WROC) — Ask the Bills about Jon Feliciano and they all say the same thing right away.
“He’s tough. He’s tough,” Frank Gore said.
“He’s one of the toughest dudes I’ve ever met,” Josh Allen said.
No surprise for a guy whose life has been filled with hardship.
He survived domestic violence as a kid. His older brother beat him up and attacked his mom.
He had to sleep in a friend’s trailer for a while in high school. He, then, had to bury that friend during college after a tragic accident.
He was drafted by the Raiders, but never got playing time. He got stuck behind better players Oakland kept adding at guard.
For the first time in his life, Feliciano doesn’t have to fight tooth and nail just to stay afloat.
“It’s definitely weird. Especially when you hear ‘one’s up’. (It’s) let’s go. It’s been great, man,” Feliciano said.
Bills tight end Lee Smith was a Raiders teammate with Feliciano from 2015-2018.
“All of us who were with him in Oakland those four years, there was no surprise when he came out here and became a very, very, very reliable starter in this league,” Smith said.
Feliciano’s current position coach, Bobby Johnson, was the Oakland tight ends coach from 2015 to 2017.
“You can feel him when he’s not in there,” Johnson said. “That’s when you know you got something. When he’s not in there and you notice.”
Feliciano wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot when he signed his 2 year, 7.3 million dollar contract. He seemed to still be in a battle when training camp began in July.
When Mitch Morse suffered a concussion quickly after camp started, Feliciano took up the mantle as the first team center for the majority of practice reps. It was quickly apparent he was going to among the starting five.
He has given the Bills zero reason to reconsider that decision.
“If anything, it’s more freeing,” Feliciano said. “I’m not on my rookie contract anymore. Honestly, that’s been the biggest change. Being free and not being scared to make mistakes.”
“We’re all getting a chance to see the real Jon. The whole package,” Johnson said. “The personality on and off the field. The play style on the field. You can see it in just everything he does. His confidence level is through the roof and I love that.”
Smith jokes that Feliciano is like him–a little bit half crazy. He’s also impressed by how Feliciano’s smarts.
It shows most when Feliciano has been pressed into service at center during camp and during the game in Nashville against the Titans. The center is the position that usually makes all the calls on the offensive line. When Morse is healthy, the Bills get to start two of them.
“You don’t want to overload your center,” Johnson said. “There’s some things your center has to communicate–not only to the line, but to the quarterback and other players. We’re able to use Jon to help with some of that.
“There’s a lot of times where he can relay information before Mitch has even made it. So, ‘hey Mitch, you talk to the line, I’ll talk to the quarterback’.”
At the very least, Feliciano’s long journey to Buffalo has put his priorities in order.
“Playing football is my job, it’s not who I am,” Feliciano. “Knowing that you go home to beautiful wife and daughter has been the biggest difference. It’s the best thing in the world.”
For a tough guy, Feliciano certainly has a soft side, too.