When Danny Amendola breaks the huddle Sunday and sets his cleats at the slot position, he’ll be returning to familiar territory.
The Woodlands graduate, former Texas Tech standout and newly-minted Texans wide receiver, signed this week to a one-year, $2.5 million contract, caught a touchdown pass and two-point conversion from Tom Brady during the New England Patriots’ epic comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium.
In 2001, at the Astrodome days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Amendola was a high school sophomore who helped his team defeat Duncanville with a clutch reception and made it to the state championship in 2003 as a senior in a loss to North Shore.
Now, the 35-year-old is plying his trade for an overhauled Texans team built in the vision of general manager Nick Caserio, a former Patriots executive, being coached by his former Philadelphia Eagles receivers coach David Culley, his position coach from last season with the Detroit Lions, Robert Prince, and joined on the field by starting wide receiver Brandin Cooks, his former New England teammate, and a new quarterback in Tyrod Taylor.
“I’m blessed,” said Amendola, who had eight receptions for 78 yards in a Super Bowl LI win over Atlanta after falling behind 28-3 at NRG Stadium. “Spent a lot of time playing here in Texas growing up: Pop Warner, high school ball, college ball. I am the son of a Texas high school football coach (Willie Amendola), so Texas football is definitely in my blood.”
Amendola will be active and playing Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars and has proven to be a quick study in the playbook, enough so that he’s expected to play a significant amount in his first game with the Texans and could even start depending on what formation the offense starts the game in, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
“A lot of familiar faces in the building, coach Prince, Nick Caserio, guys I have been around for a long time,” Amendola said. “Played with Cookie for a year, great player. Tyrod, a guy I have been watching and playing against for a long time. We finally got to link up and play on the same team so I am excited about that.
“Lot of respect for a lot of guys in this locker room. We got a lot of good players, a lot of good athletes. This team is hungry and I could tell that when I walked win the locker room the other day, how hungry this team is to win. And I am excited to strap it up on Sunday.”
A former undrafted free agent, Amendola has 593 career receptions for 5,964 yards and 21 touchdowns in stints with the Rams, Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Lions.
He runs sharp routes and has sound hands. In practice this week, Amendola looked quick and fit.
“This offense stems from a lot of the stuff we used to do in New England,” Amendola said. “I recognize most of the formations. Some of the verbiage is different with the coaches. They are changing some of the play calls so they can acclimate to some of the guys here. I’m picking up on that, taking notes, trying to learn it. I’ve been in the books 24-7 since I got here.
“Just trying to develop a role, trying to expand my role on this team. Do whatever I can to help this team win. But pretty familiar with this offense. Pretty familiar with the role I will be playing. It’s something I’ve done for a while. It all kind of really makes sense to me this offense. I love this offense. I love the style of this offense. A lot of freedom within the routes. A lot of freedom within the play style. It gives smarter players an edge to read defense and find zones, beat man coverage. I am lucky to be here, blessed to be here.”
Amendola lives in Austin and trained with Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and Colt McCoy, his neighbors, this offseason.
“I just could only worry about what I could control,” Amendola said. “Had some talks with some teams. I wanted to make sure stayed ready and stayed in good shape. I ran routes. I trained with a number of quarterbacks in Austin. Colt McCoy and Baker Mayfield live in my neighborhood. So, we always have places to go and work to be done. Just try to maintain shape and stay ready and if an opportunity came, I would be ready for it.
“I was on the street for six, seven months. That’s the longest I have been on the street for a while. Very grateful for this opportunity. You get a different perspective when you are not on a team. I am very grateful for the opportunity. Very excited to be here, run around, play football. It’s truly a gift and it’s special to be here, especially at home.”
Amendola, whose deal includes a $250,000 signing bonus, a $1.25 million base salary,and a maximum of $300,000 in per game active roster bonuses and $700,000 in incentive clauses, played last season under a one-year, $4.5 million contract. He had 46 catches for 602 yards and no scores last season. He caught 62 passes for 678 yards and one touchdown in 2019 with Detroit.
At Texas Tech, he had 204 career receptions for 2,246 yards and 15 touchdowns. Amendola had 1,045 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his senior year of high school.
“My dad lives here,” Amendola said. “I got a lot of friends here. I’m from the Woodlands. A lot of my friends and family are here. Just excited to be back home. Excited to be here.”
The game against Duncanville still resonates with Amendola after all these years.
“It was a very special day, very special national anthem that day,” Amendola said. “Meant a lot to us. Obviously, the world has changed since then. I won a Super Bowl in this building. I played a lot of preseason games here. Played a lot of regular season games here. Been to a lot of rodeos here.
“So, I’ve been in this building a lot. A little bit perspective being on the home team’s sideline, which I am really excited about being in our locker room, which is awesome. I’m excited for this week to come,this Sundayto come and ready to go.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128