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January 6, 2014

Amaro plans to 'blow people away'

There's no doubt that Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro will be selected next May in the 2014 NFL Draft.

The question is: How high will he go?

There's a lot of competition. Of the hundreds of draft eligible college football players that competed this past season, only 32 will be selected in the first round; less than 100 will be selected during the first two days of the draft.

Think about the draft as another game Amaro has to play. A game where he has to use his frame, athleticism, ability and intelligence to fend off many other players that are talented and heralded in their own right.

Amaro is a great player. Can he make himself even better between now and May?

The unanimous All-American has granted RedRaiderSports.com an inside look at the process that begin immediately after the Holiday Bowl and will culminate on May 8 in New York City.

Basketball, Then Football

Growing up, Amaro didn't play the role of future football star. Indeed, basketball was his first passion. Amaro didn't even seriously dabble with football until junior high.

"Everyone watches football when they're growing up," Amaro said. "But I didn't really play football until about middle school, honestly. I always thought I was a basketball player. That was kind of my forte, just playing basketball. I played basketball year-round. Summer ball, the winters. I guess that's where I got my quick step was basketball, and it really helped me with football in the future.

"But in the beginning I thought I was going to be an NBA player. That was my dream initially. That was my first love. It wasn't until my freshman year playing football that I really knew I could do something special."

Once his focus shifted to the gridiron, Amaro quickly picked up steam as a quality football prospect and college programs across the region began to take notice.

Amaro's heavy family ties to Texas Tech seemingly made the Red Raiders a no-brainer selection, but that initially wasn't the case.

"When (Mike) Leach got fired, there was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't go to Texas Tech," he said. "I had no idea who the coach was going to be. It was kind of a blessing in disguise because I thought I was going to go to Missouri or A&M or Baylor or something.

"I excluded Texas Tech until Coach (Neal) Brown started recruiting me. He told me how great of a player I could be there. The first time I went up there I knew that was where I wanted to be."

Amaro, ranked No. 52 nationally in Rivals.com's Class of 2011, committed to Texas Tech on April 2, 2010 and signed exactly 10 months later. He headlined an outstanding recruiting class that was one of the best in program history.

Expectations were high.

But Amaro could not crack the starting lineup as a freshman. He played in 12 games, but only caught seven passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns.

"Of course, going into my freshman year, the plan was to be a starter and be a Freshman All-American," Amaro said. "Anything I could do, I wanted to do. It didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. I was so stressed meeting expectations and I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't handle myself the best way.

"I felt like I put a lot of pressure on myself going into my freshman year when I really had no pressure. I probably should have gotten redshirted. I just wasn't ready to play, I feel like. There were a lot of things that I could have improved on. I was really raw, didn't know how to run routes or work defenders.

"I had some big expectations, but I didn't do exactly what I wanted to do."

Amaro's experience as a freshman mirrored that of his team. The Red Raiders lost their last five games of the 2011 season and finished 5-7, the first time a Texas Tech football team had ended with a losing record since 1992.

Battling Adversity

Amaro logged 138 career catches as a Red Raider. One-hundred and thirty-eight catches that resulted in scores of tough, bruising tackles and hits. Injuries are a part of high-level athletics and playing through them is something to which Amaro has become accustomed.

He just keeps going.

"I think some people get the wrong image of me," Amaro said. "I think that people portray my competitiveness as a negative thing sometimes. I feel like I'm the most competitive guy out there. I know for a fact that I'm the hardest worker that I know of.

"The coaches used to get mad at me because I stayed out there too long. Coach (Kliff) Kingsbury and coach (Chad) Dennis, our strength coach, would tell me to go home basically. It was one of those thing where I just cared about it so much. I wanted to win every game that I could at Texas Tech and I didn't know what it took. So I just took myself to the next level and trained harder than I ever did for it."

Amaro set NCAA records in 2013 while playing through injuries -- a knee tweak here, tendonitis there. Were it not for a more substantial injury in 2012 -- a lacerated spleen he sustained against West Virginia -- that sidelined him for most of the season, the San Antonio product could have made a bigger impact on the recordbook.

"I knew there was something wrong with me after that deal," Amaro recalled. "I didn't feel right. I was throwing up. I was spitting out blood. I knew it was bad and I just thought, 'You're not going to be able to play for a couple of weeks, so you might as well finish this game as best you can and go until you can't go anymore.'

"The only reason I came out was because I couldn't breathe. I was having so much trouble breathing. The trainers took me for X-rays and we went to the hospital. They told me I was going to be out for the season. It just broke my heart. I knew that I was a big part of that team. I wanted to play for my teammates and play for my coaching staff. That's just the way I am and how I've always been."

As Amaro continued to recover and rehab, Tommy Tuberville left for Cincinnati and Kliff Kingsbury was asked to return home.

"I felt like I always had a good relationship with Coach Tuberville," Amaro said. "He is one of those guys who told me how great I could be there. He said I could be one of the best he ever coached. I always had a great relationship with him and thought he was a great guy.

"With Coach Kingsbury, he just took me to another level. Him and Coach (Eric) Morris. Coach Morris is the greatest coach I ever had from a receiver standpoint. I grew more than I could imagine."

The Journey Begins

We caught up with Amaro by phone after a workout. He's already establishing his training routine before moving to the Athlete's Performance Institute in Frisco, Texas. He also has hired Erik Burkhardt -- who also represents Kingsbury -- as his agent.

"I think, for me, it's never been about the profits or exposure or anything like that," Amaro said. "I've always been a guy that's felt a love for the game. I think that if you put your heart into it first rather than the money or anything like that, I feel like good things are going to happen for you. I think it's all worth it in the end.

"You get to play in the NFL. Everyone dreams about playing in the NFL. It's a lot of hard work and a lot of determination. So I feel like all of it's worth it in the end. Just going out there and playing, playing for the fun of it."

He's a player that enjoys the grind of football.

If Amaro works hard enough, he will likely be the first Red Raider to be drafted in the first-round since Michael Crabtree in 2009. He expects his name to be called early.

"If I knew I wasn't going to be the first tight end picked in the draft, I would have stayed," Amaro said. "There's no doubt in my mind what I'm going to do at the combine. It's just going to blow people away. I think people get the wrong image. I'm not sure why people say that I'm slow. I've got a lot to prove, and I know how fast I'm going to run.

"The volume of plays we run, you know, we're the fastest offense in the whole nation."

He then ran off all the numbers Tech put up this past season.

"They're going to say I'm not as fast as the guy from North Carolina (Eric Ebron) from what I've heard," Amaro said. "But I'm going to go to the combine and I know how fast I'm going to run the 40. I know how high I'm going to jump and how much I'm going to bench.

"When I do all those things, it's going to blow people away."

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