In a span of two plays Saturday, Jace Amaro demonstrated the level of athleticism and football acumen that has had teammates and coaches touting his potential for more than a year.
First, the sophomore tight end reacted quickly to a tipped pass by a Texas State defensive back, grabbing the ball in stride and turning it into a 24-yard gain.
On the very next play, Amaro leaped into the air, stretched his 6-foot-5, 257-pound frame and grabbed a 19-yard touchdown pass over another overmatched defender.
That sequence displayed a combination of size, speed, strength and skill that had Tech coach Tommy Tuberville making a bold prediction on the first day of preseason camp.
“He’s got a chance to be one of the best to ever play around here,” Tuberville said.
A statement like that might seem like a lot of pressure, but it’s no more than Amaro, the San Antonio MacArthur product, puts on himself.
“For me, personally, I expect myself to catch about 80 or 90 balls,” Amaro said of his goals this season, “maybe 1,000 yards — and the touchdowns will come with the catches — and for me to be an all-American this year.”
Those accomplishments would be a giant leap from last season. As a highly touted freshman — he was a member the Avalanche-Journal Fabulous 44 list of the state’s top recruits — Amaro struggled to find playing time behind senior Adam James and caught only seven passes, a total he has already matched through two games this season.
“I have high expectations for myself, too, and didn’t fulfill what I was supposed to last year,” Amaro said. “People say I didn’t do whatever, and I wasn’t very good last year. I can honestly say that was the most disappointing season I’ve ever been through and maybe one of the hardest times I’ve ever been through, just the grind and the adversity.”
As Tech headed into spring practice, Amaro said he met with offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who told the tight end that he needed to put an emphasis on his work ethic. Brown told Amaro he had the ability to be among the best players in the country at his position.
“I really took that to heart,” Amaro said.
Amaro said he elevated his dedication to the game, determined to become an impact player for the Red Raiders.
In March, though, that progress hit a road block. Amaro and teammate Kenny Williams were arrested on suspicion of unauthorized use of a debit card at a local bar.
In an instant, Amaro feared he had jeopardized his future.
“It’s made me realize how precious everything is for you,” Amaro said. “I thought I had lost everything in a matter of seconds, not just for football but family-wise. People you could say you thought were your friends say stuff behind your back. They don’t really know exactly what happened.”
Amaro and Williams maintained their innocence from the start. Six months later, there has still been no criminal case brought against the players, Amaro’s attorney, Chuck Lanehart, told the Avalanche-Journal on Wednesday. Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney Matt Powell confirmed the county has not presented a case against Amaro and Williams.
“A lot of the media kind of just goes off the first-day aspects and things like that,” Amaro said. “There’s always two sides of the story for everything. For me, it totally changed my life around. I really appreciate everything a lot more.”
Still, the event was a distraction during spring practice, and Williams and Amaro both wanted to make amends to their team for putting themselves in the position to make the wrong kind of headlines.
“Kenny and Jace, they did their part by going in front of the team in a team meeting and apologizing and doing their deed to the team, because they felt that they had let everyone down,” Tech wide receiver Eric Ward said after spring practice. “They stood up and took ownership of their problems that they had caused.”
Now Amaro has done everything he can to take ownership of his position in the Red Raiders’ pass-happy offense. He is a matchup nightmare for defenses with the speed to maneuver around linebackers and safeties and power-forward-like size to box out cornerbacks, such as he did on the jump-ball touchdown catch against Texas State.
“He’s going to continue to grow as a player,” Tech quarterback Seth Doege said, “and he’s going to be a big-time player for us.”
Amaro will carry lofty expectations on his shoulders for the rest of the season. His abilities demand them. But after facing a heavy amount of adversity during his first year in Lubbock, Amaro said he is grateful for the opportunity to continue building toward what appears to be a bright future.
“You can really see the guys in this locker room, and our expectations are big,” Amaro said. “You dream big and results will be big. For me, I expect us to win a lot of games.”
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