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Washington State football coach Mike Leach saw Danny Amendola’s attributes at Texas Tech

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrates with Danny Amendola after the Super Bowl victory over Atlanta last Sunday. (Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrates with Danny Amendola after the Super Bowl victory over Atlanta last Sunday. (Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

PULLMAN – Danny Amendola just earned his second Super Bowl ring and finished his eighth NFL season in part because of his precise route running – he has a world-class ability to travel specific distances along predetermined paths.

In, out, curl, fly, hitch – Amendola can doubtlessly run them all 100 times and leave only one set of footprints. But somehow he never quite got the hang of the route to the Texas Tech training room.

When Amendola played for then-TTU coach Mike Leach from 2004-07, the Red Raiders had to devote a manager to ensuring the young wide receiver would visit the athletic trainers.

“He would flat-out refuse, and I mean refuse, he would absolutely refuse to go to the training room because he didn’t want any trainer to have the option to say, ‘Amendola can’t go this week,’ ” said Leach, now the head coach at Washington State.

“He would refuse to go to the training room and then he’d be limping around practice and the trainer would say, ‘Well, I haven’t seen him.’ ‘Well, make sure you see him after practice.’ Then he still wouldn’t show up. We’d have somebody walk him to the training room and the trainer would say, ‘I still never saw him.’ Then we walked him to the training room and kept walking and he’d walk to the training room and he’d enter the training room, and then he’d keep on walking out the back door.”

Back in those days, Amendola was far from a sure-fire NFL star. Despite racking up 204 receptions for 2,246 yards and returning 116 punts for another 1,283 yards, Amendola went undrafted.

He quickly became a star, though, thanks to the HBO show “Hard Knocks,” a documentary series that went behind the scenes of the Dallas Cowboys preseason camp.

The short (5-foot-10), slow (4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and fearless receiver quickly became a fan favorite and received regular airtime on the show. He did not, however, receive a roster spot, but was added to Dallas’ practice squad.

After a stint with the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad, Amendola finally caught a break in 2009 and was signed to the active roster of the St. Louis Rams. In 2013 he joined the Patriots, where he won Super Bowls in 2014 and last weekend. Both games were close, and Amendola scored a touchdown in each victory.

Amendola has more than 8,000 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns in his professional career. Not bad considering his undrafted roots.

“First of all, he’s incredibly tough. He’s not just sort of tough, he’s incredibly tough. Also, he knows the game and also he never squanders plays,” Leach said. “He plays full speed virtually every play and that multiplies out in an even more important fashion: He never squanders opportunities to improve because whether it’s a game or practice, if you’re going full speed the whole time you’re steadily pushing the bar and improving.”

Leach added that players such as Amendola are underrated by NFL teams that overvalue easily measurable skills – such as height and speed – and undervalue toughness and raw football ability.

“The most important measure – not for the NFL, they have all these different measures – but the most important measure should be who’s the best football player,” Leach said. “They’re trying to gauge that, but not, because they get caught up in the numbers. And then the biggest mishap in the NFL I think is too often noncoaches are deciding who’s drafted and who’s not.”

Amendola draws frequent comparisons to Wes Welker, another short, slow slot receiver who caught passes and returned punts for Leach at Texas Tech and went undrafted. Welker became one of the best receivers in the NFL. Leach attributes some of Welker’s success to the same singular focus that he says made Amendola a key player for an NFL champion.

“I’ll tell you one thing about those guys, you never heard them talk about the NFL. They never said a word about the NFL. Not once,” Leach said. “Not one time did I ever hear Danny Amendola or Wes Welker say a word about the NFL. They were just focused on being the very best they could be. They innately had the understanding that if I do the very best I can with virtually all I have, then that will take me as far as I can possibly go, and thinking about anything else is nothing but a distraction and wavers my focus from that.”

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