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17 Oct

Great Hands and a Great Heart

Danny Amendola’s Aptly Named 'Catches for Kids Foundation' Epitomizes the Patriots Receiver On and Off the Field

Photographed by Michael Indresano Photography

Quick feet, tough customer and great hands—all of those terms reflect Patriots receiver Danny Amendola’s NFL dossier. So, too, does the phrase “great heart.” The words embody Amendola’s work ethic and willingness to absorb NFL punishment in a decidedly undersized—by football standards—frame. Few players have worked harder to seize a gridiron niche than the native Texan, who was undrafted by the NFL despite a starry career at Texas Tech. After all, there was that small-by-pro-football standards thing. What every team missed was arguably the most important measurement of all—heart.

Eight years since he was bypassed in the draft, Amendola has overcome skeptics and several serious injuries to become one of Tom Brady’s go-to receivers, lauded by Rob Gronkowski as akin to an acrobat for Amendola’s ability to launch himself airborne to snag passes in traffic. How about sure hands? In the 20152016 Patriots’ campaign, Amendola grabbed 65 receptions and never coughed up the ball. Not even once. Even the estimable Julian Edelman lost the ball a few times.

Danny Amendola

Amendola, born in 1985 in The Woodlands, Texas, was one of the football-crazed state’s finest high-school players and went on to star at Texas Tech. His long, oft-tortuous path, to the Pats began in 2008 when the Texas Tech star signed a free-agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys and made the practice squad. The following year, he latched onto the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad. Then came his breakout from the NFL’s margins, in 2009, when he joined the St. Louis Rams. His breakaway first step opened the Rams coaches’ eyes and resulted in his leading the league in Kickoff Returns (66), Kickoff Return Yardage (1,618), and Total Return Yards (1,978)—setting team records in all three departments. From 2010 to 2012, Amendola became something of a human highlight reel, his astonishing catches and shifty moves leaving defenders and fans alike gaping. Only a rash of serious injuries slowed him down, yet he always came back. No one ever questioned his toughness, but many NFL executives and coaches viewed him as a great but unlucky talent.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick saw his kind of player in Amendola, and the Pats signed him in 2013 as they decided to let the great Wes Welker head off to the Denver Broncos. Shortly after inking the pact, Amendola opened the collective eyes of Patriots Nation—but not for an on-field exploit.

On April 15, 2013, when the Boston Marathon Bombing shattered lives and the region’s psyche, Danny Amendola pledged financial support that very night to the evolving Boston Marathon Relief Fund. Several of his new teammates quickly followed his lead.

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On the field, Amendola helped the Pats win the 2015 Super Bowl with key catches throughout the playoffs and the big game itself.  He has battled through injuries to become one of Belichick’s favorite players and an integral part of the Pats’ offense.  Committed to winning, he has opted to remain in New England for less money than he could have claimed on the open NFL market. In every matter, the Patriots, their fans, and the community have benefited from Amendola’s exploits on the gridiron and his great deeds off the field.

Recently, he talked with Scene about the upcoming season and one of his favorite topics—Danny Amendola’s Catches for Kids, his charitable foundation, and its stated mission since its 2010 inception: “To improve the lives of low-income children and families in need by providing daily support, opportunities, resources and life-changing opportunities.”

SCENE: How are you physically as the 2016 season looms?

Amendola: I look at the past few months as a tune-up. As you get older, your body sends you a message for what it needs in terms of healing. I’ll be ready to go this season.

How do you feel that the new season’s shaping up for the Pats?

There’s no question that we’ve got a good team. I think we’ve improved from last year, but only time will tell. Right now, every team is optimistic coming out of camp. For us, though, a season is measured not just by a winning record. Our goal, always, is another Super Bowl ring.

For you, what is the biggest difference playing for the Patriots as opposed to your years in Dallas, Philadelphia, and St. Louis? Even now, you could have tested the contractual waters with other teams, but chose to remain in New England.

My teammates are the number one draw here. They’re my best friends, and there’s a real and deep bond in and out of the locker room and playing field. There’s also the emphasis on winning. On other teams, you hear about tradition, but the moment you walk into this locker room, you feel it. The coaches, the players, ownership—everyone with the Patriots is invested in winning. The Super Bowl is the chief goal. Here, anything less than that is not enough. I love that.

My family has New England roots, too, and I have relatives in the area. I love New England, and now I can’t imagine playing anywhere else. Boston is an unbelievable city, and for any athlete looking to become involved in the community, this is the perfect place. The fans here are special, too. They’re so supportive of us and so invested in the tradition Coach Belichick, our staff, and all the players who have been here over the years have created. Getting a Super Bowl ring with such a great group of guys in 2015 was incredible. I want to have that experience again with the Patriots and to put all my effort to help us accomplish that.

It’s such a privilege to be a part of the Patriots. The atmosphere is challenging and hard, but that’s why it works.

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You mentioned the opportunities for athletes to give back to the community here, and your Catches for Kids Foundation strives to do exactly that. What was the genesis of the foundation for you?

In a lot of ways, my parents are responsible for the foundation. My dad [Willie] was a teacher and coach and my mom [Rose] was in education. Their commitment to all kids was 100 percent, and from the time I was little, books and the importance of education were a big part of my life. I spent a lot of time in the library and usually had a book in my hand a lot of the time. So Catches for Kids was kind of a no-brainer for me. Books are such an important part of my life, and I know that there are a lot of kids who don’t have access to books, decent libraries, and computers. Today, if kids don’t have access to those tools, there’s no way they can compete and succeed against children from homes and neighborhoods where those things are affordable.

Growing up, books were my outlet, as much as sports. I want every poor kid to have that same outlet available to them from an early age. My platform with the Patriots gives me a voice to help out not just kids, but entire families who need help. One thing about Boston and New England is that a lot of people and businesses welcome the opportunity to help. It’s amazing how fast and how hard people jump in when you approach them with a chance to make a difference in the lives of poor kids and families who simply want a chance. Education gives kids that chance. Through my parents, I had the chance I want all kids to have.

For me, it’s a win-win situation. I’m getting to do what I love—play football and use my profile as a Patriot to help out kids who really need the community’s attention. One of the highlights for me every year is when kids come to camp [Patriots] and get to see me and my teammates work and get to meet a lot of guys who, like them, needed a break and were fortunate enough that someone stepped in. It’s amazing what access to computers, books, and programs can accomplish with kids. All kids need a chance.

Catches for Kids is a no-brainer for me—it’s the chance for me and everyone else with the foundation to give back.

Readers interested in learning more about Catches for Kids and how to become involved can visit: www.dannyamendola.org