|Snapper savors NFL career that nearly wasn't|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 17 August 2008 22:11|
Ken Amato, who waited nearly five years after finishing college before making an NFL team, couldn't be happier.
``That's a great feeling. You walk out there, and it's a great place to play here in Tennessee. The fans are awesome. It's loud. It's a great football atmosphere, so it's an amazing feeling,'' Amato said.
So is Amato's journey from his hometown of Miami to Montana State and finally the Tennessee Titans. The kid who learned how to long snap while playing Pop Warner now is prepping for what will be his sixth NFL season having worked with veteran punter Craig Hentrich and All Pro kicker Rob Bironas.
Hentrich, a two-time Pro Bowler and 14-year veteran, called Amato a great athlete but said it took some getting used to the left-handed snapper back in 2003.
``It doesn't sound like a lot but the opposite spin on the ball makes you think about it a little bit. Once I got used to it, it's great. He gets the ball back 15 yards to me in about .6 seconds, which gives me more time to do what I've got to do before I kick it,'' Hentrich said.
``He's been great for me. He's had a couple bad snaps in a game, nothing that's ever hurt us. He's very reliable, and the only thing that's happened the last couple years is he's gotten hurt a couple times. That's obviously not his fault. He comes back from them strong.''
Amato started long snapping in Pop Warner. He played cornerback, safety and linebacker in high school but was small enough coming out that he didn't receive an offer to college. A former teammate helped lure him to Moorpark Junior College in California where he hurt a knee ligament and stuck around by long snapping.
He landed a scholarship to Montana State where he played two years, then spent two years helping coaches with video and other work before moving back to Miami and working with juveniles on probation. He stayed in shape in a flag football league where he had to snap the ball back up to 15 yards to the quarterback and watched the Dolphins in training camp a few times.
``I thought I can do that, at least I thought so. But at that point, I had moved on with my life. I had a full-time job. It was just kind of a blessing when it all did happen,'' Amato said.
The Carolina Panthers called in May 2002 but needed a roster spot at Amato's expense. The Panthers signed him again in February 2003 only to run into more injuries and cut him in June. The Titans signed him on Aug. 12, 2003, and he now has played in 61 games with 31 special teams tackles.
Coach Jeff Fisher, a former punt returner himself who prizes special teams, values Amato's accuracy on snapping for field goals and punts.
``He's athletic, and he's made some goal-line stops for us, played short yardage for us, played linebacker in the preseason for us. He's a snapper that can do more than just snap. He can go down and make the tackle. He wants to play on all four special teams or six rather. We can't risk that,'' Fisher said.
Amato tore his right anterior cruciate ligament last year that limited him to seven games. Healthy now, he's hoping to keep playing as long as possible before turning to coaching, but making sure he savors every minute.
``Every year I basically come into camp knowing that I've got to work and do my best to stick around. I got three or four times before I stuck on a team. It's a privilege to be here. I'm glad they've kept me around so long,'' Amato said. ``I look forward to a few more years hopefully.''