Things haven’t come easy for Danny Amendola over the course of his career. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
When it comes to the career of Danny Amendola, things haven’t come easy.
From growing up and being undersized, losing the state championship game his senior year in high school, being overshadowed by freshman Michael Crabtree during his senior year at Texas Tech, to dealing with a few major injuries over his first five years in the NFL, Amendola certainly has faced many obstacles during his football life.
But, the 30-year-old isn’t one to make any excuses for himself, which is a major reason why he is where he is now — having a major role with the Patriots.
“I’ve felt comfortable ever since I got here,” Amendola said. “It’s a great environment to play football and work. Everybody demands a lot. It’s an intense environment so you get the best out of yourself.”
Amendola has been around the game of football practically since he was born. His dad Willie was a Texas high school football coach just outside of Houston and his older brother Matt was a high school star at The Woodlands in their hometown of The Woodlands, Texas.
Growing up it wasn’t just football Amendola enjoyed, he played every sport that he could.
“It didn’t matter if it was football, basketball, baseball, skating, or whatever — he enjoyed it,” Willie Amendola, currently the athletic director at Spring ISD in Texas, said. “He was just an athletic kid who enjoyed every sport. When he was that young he didn’t like football more than anything else, he probably liked baseball more than anything else.”
Willie didn’t want Danny to play football until he was 12 years old, but Danny talked him into it at age 10. Danny always found himself on the sidelines, as he would be the ball boy at his dad’s game, or his brother Matt’s game, whatever game Danny wanted to go to.
Once Danny reached high school he played for coach Weldon Willig at The Woodlands. Despite being half the size of some of the other players on the team, that didn’t stop him from making varsity as a sophomore.
“I remember the great competitor he was and there wasn’t anything he didn’t think he could do,” Willig recalled. “That was always how he played.”
With his dad a coach at nearby Westfield High School, that meant Danny and Willie would face each other once a year.
Danny’s sophomore year his dad’s team got the best of him, but Danny was able to win the next two meetings, with Danny having big games in each of them. (Willie still can perfectly recall some of the plays in the games to this day, almost 15 years later.)
“It was awesome,” Danny said of facing his dad. “A very unique situation. It wasn’t weird, it was fun. It was cool. It was unique.”
For Willie, facing his son put things into perspective.
“Honestly, it kind of puts football in a different perspective,” Willie said. “You compete and win against your own son, you kind of remember it is just a game, it’s not life or death. It’s just the opponent, not the enemy. It kind of put things in a different perspective.”
“But, there’s bragging rights involved for sure,” Willie made sure to add.
In Danny’s senior year The Woodlands had their best team in school history. They went 15-0 and made it to the state championship game at Rice University playing in front of the biggest crowd in Rice University Stadium history at the time because it was two Houston teams facing off.
In the end, The Woodland Highlanders fell to North Shore, 23-7.
“It was just a huge blow because competitors never like to lose. I don’t care what it was or what you’re doing,” Willig said of what it was like for Danny to lose the final game of his high school career.
“My high school teammates were my best friends and I will never forget that,” Danny said. “We had a good time. We had a great year. We had a great run. There’s nothing like Texas high school football.”
Despite the loss, Danny was on to Texas Tech to play for head coach Mike Leach, who had scouted him a lot and described Amendola to Willig as “a perfect fit” for Texas Tech’s offense.
A STAR TAKING OVER
Amendola had a solid first three years as a Red Raider.
Despite being just 170 pounds, he made a name for himself starting as a punt returner his freshman year, but then was able to establish himself in the offense as well.
In his first three years, he caught 95 passes for 1,001 yards and nine touchdowns. His senior year was no slouch, as he caught 109 passes for 1,245 yards and six touchdowns, but it could have been even better.
Crabtree joined Texas Tech for Amendola’s senior year and put up insane numbers for a freshman, or any year for that matter — 134 receptions for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns. Without Crabtree, Amendola surely would have put up bigger numbers and received more national attention, but he never looked at it like that.
“Danny was overlooked, but he never let that bother him,” Amendola’s quarterback at Texas Tech Graham Harrell said, who is currently a receivers coach at Washington State.
“When you’re on the field with a guy like that, sometimes people don’t notice the other guy,” Harrell added. “Danny was just as important, if not more important, especially his senior year. Crabtree was a freshman and was doing a lot of great things, but the dirty work was done by Danny.”
Doing the “dirty work” didn’t bother Amendola, as he was all about the team.
“Just part of the game,” Amendola said. “[Crabtree] was a great player so we threw him a bunch of screens and stuff and we’d block for him and watch him run. One of the best players I’ve ever played with.”
Harrell got to know Amendola well at Texas Tech, as they came in together as freshman, but Harrell took a red-shirt year and graduated a year after him. The first thing Harrell noticed was Amendola’s competitiveness.
“He’s super competitive and he’s the type of guy that it doesn’t matter what it is — whether it was ping pong in the players lounge or whatever it is, if he lost he might get ready ready to fight you,” Harrell said. “You always had to be prepared for that. That is the type of guy he is. He loved to compete and that is what makes him great.”
Texas Tech made bowl games in three of the four seasons Amendola played. While he wasn’t drafted, Amendola did enough at the school to get noticed by NFL teams.
“It was cool,” Amendola said. “Great experience. Got an education. Got to play some good football with some great players. It was a lot of fun.”
THE STRUGGLE TO FIND A HOME
Amendola was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys immediately following the 2008 draft, but he didn’t make the team and spent the entire year on the practice squad.
In 2009, Amendola found himself on the Eagles’ practice squad, but the Rams signed him on Sept. 22 and he caught 43 passes for 326 yards and one touchdown as a slot receiver, while also returning kicks that year with St. Louis.
In 2010, he started six games with the Rams and led the NFL in all-purpose yards with 2,364 and was appearing to be making a name for himself in the league.
But, then came the 2011 season when he dislocated his elbow in the first game of the season and was forced to miss the whole year. The next year, 2012, he couldn’t stay healthy again, suffering a freak dislocated clavicle where instead of it popping out, it popped in, which the trainer’s had never seen before. Amendola only missed three games because of that, but had another injury a few games later and needed season-ending triceps surgery.
He only played 11 games in 2012, but was still able to catch 63 passes for 666 yards and three touchdowns, but he now was getting a reputation of being injury prone.
“He’s not a guy that would ever want you to feel bad for him so I would never feel bad for him, but at the same time I am always pulling for him and saying, ‘Man, if he ever gets a shot, he is going to make it,'” Harrell said.
Amendola was a free agent following the season and the Patriots signed him, as they needed a slot receiver. (Ironically, to replace Wes Welker who had been a slot receiver at Texas Tech before Amendola got there.)
The injury bug followed Amendola to New England, as in his first game he suffered a groin injury in the first half, but still managed to finish the game with 10 catches for 104 yards.
That would be his biggest game of the year, as he played the rest of the season through a torn groin muscle and was subjected to the second slot receiver position behind Julian Edelman, as Amendola finished the year with 54 catches for 633 yards and two touchdowns.
“You never want to miss time, but it is the most physical game so it comes with the territory,” Amendola said of his injuries over the years. “Nobody every really plays 100 percent so you just try and patch whatever you have up and keep rolling.”
FINALLY FEELING LIKE HOME
From the minute Amendola got to the Patriots he felt comfortable. He liked the area, he liked his teammates and he liked the system.
In 2010, Amendola started a foundation called “Danny Amendola‘s Catches for Kids,” which helps children in need and he immediately took that to the Boston community.
He’s maybe most known for donating $100 for every pass he caught and $200 for every pass he dropped in the 2013 season to a Boston Marathon relief fund, the year following the bombings.
“It was just something that I have a foundation and philanthropy and giving back to the community — they give so much coming to support us and just to give back is fun,” Amendola said. “I get a lot out of it too. It’s fun. It’s cool.”
On the field with the Patriots in 2014, Amendola was able to carve out a role for himself as a punt returner for most of the season and then really picked up his play late in the regular season and into the playoffs, developing great chemistry with Tom Brady on the way to the Patriots winning Super Bowl XLIX.
In the final two games of the regular-season and the three playoff games, Amendola had 23 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Prior to that, he had 15 catches for 113 yards and one touchdown.
Amendola cites the Super Bowl win, a game in which he caught a fourth-quarter touchdown, as the biggest accomplishment of his athletic career.
“Yeah, I mean you always want to win the last game you play in,” Amendola said. “To win the big one was fun. Obviously, we’re working to try and win every game this year and try to win every game that we play. That’s what we prepare for.”
The momentum has continued into 2015, as through the first nine games of the season, Amendola has caught 40 passes for 403 yards and two touchdowns.
Now with Edelman reportedly done for the season with a broken bone in his foot, many expect Amendola will be asked to pick up the slack and play a more predominant role in the offense.
While Amendola and coaching staff say the team will do whatever is best and no one player will be asked to replace Edelman, Amendola certainly has many pulling for him and hoping he gets a chance to shine, as it’s been almost a whole career coming.
“For a guy like Danny, he’s a guy that you can’t help but root for,” Harrell said. “Even if he is a guy that you’re not close to, he’s a guy you can’t help but pull for. You do feel bad. He gets to the league, but doesn’t get drafted. He bounces around and can’t really catch on, but finally he started having successes and that is just now taking off with New England.”
DraftKings has your shot to play for FREE in the $1 Million Fantasy Football Contest THIS SUNDAY! First place takes home $100,000! FOR FREE ENTRY, CLICK HERE.