A Glimpse of the Past

Last time I checked, Wes Welker had just signed a 3-year contract with the Miami Dolphins and was cruising up to Pro Player Stadium in former Red Raider Zach Thomas's 2004 BMW. Or was he? On Saturday at Jones SBC Stadium in Lubbock, freshman Danny Amendola gave Tech fans a slight case of "Wait, I recognize this guy" syndrome.

That's right; he looked very similar to former Texas Tech poster boy Wes Welker as he danced and juked his way through the TCU punt coverage team for two game-changing returns.

At the beginning of the season the most likely candidate for the highly touted punt return position was third year letterman and veteran receiver Nehemiah Glover. After Glover got knocked around somewhat in the second game against New Mexico, special teams Coach Ruffin McNeil was called upon to find a fresh face.

In high school at The Woodlands, Amendola returned punts on the varsity team as early as his sophomore year, and was successful at it too. So Danny, you're not in high school anymore. Just how different is the college game from high school?

"It's a lot faster. They don't miss tackles in division one," says Amendola. "These guys are a lot bigger and faster and stronger. Basically it's a different game."

Since the beginning of the Mike Leach era at Texas Tech, quarterbacks and receivers have been flocking to Lubbock like bees to a honeycomb. And why not? Over the past two years Tech's quarterbacks and receivers have lead the nation with playstation-like numbers.

"The style of play really attracted me to Tech," said Amendola. "Throwing every down just about; nearly 70 balls a game and hopefully having a chance to return some kicks."

Leach is a player's coach and he loves to praise the guys running his system.

"Danny has done a really good job," quotes Leach. "He had two really good punt returns and he is always going as hard as he can."

Just over a month ago, Danny Amendola walked onto the Texas Tech practice field as a new and bewildered freshman looking to make a name for himself. Saturday, with over 50,000 screaming fans cheering him on, he made punt returns of 52 and 47 yards giving the sputtering Tech offense a spark they needed to unleash the beast and put up 70 points in just over 38 minutes of play.

"It was incredible," recalls Amendola of his first game at Jones SBC stadium. "Nothing I could have expected. This was my first time to Jones on a game day and it was the one I got to play in."

Now, all Tech fans know that Welker will live in infamy in Lubbock for years to come.

He set a NCAA record of 8 career punt returns for touchdowns and over 1,700 punt return yards during his four years at Texas Tech University. Welker also owns the single-season record for Punt Returns (57) and Punt Return Yards (752), both coming in 2002. This is not to mention Welker's 3,069 yards as a receiver, which tops the all time career yardage list.

No pressure Danny. You don't have big shoes to fill or anything.

So how does Amendola feel about all this comparison to Wes Welker?

"It's a compliment beyond belief," Amendola said. "I can't explain how good it is to be compared to a man of that stature."

Yet, he doesn't want to stand in the shadow of Welker forever either.

"I'm my own person too so I want to see what I can do out there."

There is definitely an uncanny ability for returning punts that not everyone is gifted with. Something about eleven players streaming at you like a rabid pit bull just doesn't appeal to everyone. Yet, every coach will tell you that games can be won and lost on special teams.

So how does one return a punt?

"I think a lot of it is instincts," said Amendola. "If you asked me what happened after a punt return I probably couldn't tell you. All my adrenaline gets going and I just pick a lane and go."

Somehow Texas Tech is always able to find a guy that makes a huge difference in the special teams. This year it is number 20 instead of number 27.

"Every single play he goes hard," Coach Mike Leach said of Amendola. "With Danny, you are half-way there in terms of consistency. He doesn't hesitate or worry that he is going to make a mistake."

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