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Published: Friday, 10/22/2004

It is always Amato's season

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The versatile 5-11, 165-pound senior is not only a Jack of all trades when it comes to football, but also a man for all seasons, excelling in basketball and tennis for the Irish.

In football, Amato has been a four-year fixture for fifth-year Central coach Greg Dempsey's varsity squad, currently 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the City League.

"I've been around for four years now and it just seems like, once you get into the season, it just flies by," Amato said. "Coming into my fourth year I was hoping we could do something special with it. This year reminds me a lot of the first two years I had here."

Amato was the team's punter as a freshman in 2001 when the 9-3 Irish, led by standouts Ryne Robinson (All-Ohio receiver) and Derek Barksdale (all-district tailback), advanced to the second round of the Division II playoffs before losing to eventual state champion St. Francis de Sales. Robinson is now starring at Miami of Ohio.

In 2002 Amato was the starting quarterback, punter and placekicker on a Robinson/Barksdale-led 10-2 team that fell to state semifinalist St. Francis in the second playoff week.

Amato enjoyed somes luxuries as a sophomore.

"I was spoiled," he said. "When you have Ryne and Derek, you're spoiled. You can't help it. They made a ton of plays. There wasn't much pressure on me at quarterback. They were just amazing."

Last season, with Central struggling through a 3-7 rebuilding year, Amato became the new team leader. He passed for more than 1,300 yards and earned second-team D-II All-Ohio honors as a punter.

This year, with the emergence of a more balanced offense, Amato has completed 63 of 113 passes (56 percent) for 875 yards and seven touchdowns, plus rushed for 125 yards and a score.

"I think I've gotten better at managing the team. We've put in a lot more things in our play selection, and I've matured in that way."

Dempsey thinks Amato is at his best during the chaos of a pass rush.

"What makes him a good quarterback is the way he sees the field while a play is going on," the coach said. "When he's dropping back, he's able to forget about that rush, see what's open downfield and either deliver the ball or feel the rush and start scrambling like Doug Flutie and make things happen with his feet. He has a great feel for the pocket, and that's something you can't coach."

"I think it comes from my parents [Chris and Nancy]," Amato said. "They have instilled in me a calmness. No matter what I do, it doesn't matter, because they're proud of me either way. That's how I act on the field and in the classroom."

For his career, Amato is 263 of 456 passing (58 percent) for 3,606 yards with 30 TDs and 13 interceptions.

Amato's 22 punts this year have averaged 41.5 yards (career average 41.2). As Central's kicker he's hit 9 of 13 field goal attempts (16 of 23 career), including a long of 44 yards, and converted 23 of 24 extra-point kicks (49 of 51 career).

"That sophomore year, Danny did not get enough credit for what he did because we had Ryne Robinson and Derek Barksdale," Dempsey said. "People don't remember the Tiffin Columbian playoff game when we were in four-wide shotgun the whole way down the field [closing minute of 32-31 win] and had to score a touchdown. He got it done.

"Last year we had some growing pains through rebuilding. He handled it real well and had a great statistical year.

"He wanted to come back and be a winner this year. We still have a few tough games to go and he's a big part of our resurgence this year."

Pivotal regular-season CL games remain at Clay tonight and against St. Francis Oct. 29 at the Glass Bowl.

When football ends for the Irish - possibly in the playoffs or at least the CL's Hall of Fame Game - Amato, barring injury, will take one week off to rest up before joining the Central basketball team, for which he will be a sharp-shooting, third-year starting guard.

When basketball concludes in March he will take a week off before competing as a fourth-year varsity tennis player and earning his 11th varsity letter.

"I take a week in between each sport, and those are my favorite two weeks of the year," Amato said.

"I get to relax, and it's totally different just going home."

Amato's busy schedule is not limited to athletics. He is dedicated in the classroom and, with a 4.1 cumulative grade-point average, ranks 19th in the senior class.

In the summer, in addition to offseason training, Amato has devoted his time the past two years to Jupiter Pro Lawn Care. He started the grass-cutting/landscaping business, which currently has 30 clients. After expenses for labor and equipment, Amato figures he has saved more than $20,000 for his college education.

Amato has a lofty college dream. He hopes to attend the University of Notre Dame and join the Irish football team as a walk-on punter or placekicker. If accepted, he will enroll there and chase his goal.

"I'd like to go to Notre Dame, mainly for the education," said Amato, who plans to be a business major.

"If I could walk on, it would be awesome. It would be a good experience just being a part of a program like that."

Dempsey says Amato has also received interest from some Ivy League schools.

Amato's skill-level at quarterback is above average for the high school level, but his size limits Division I college interest. Below D-I, however, Dempsey is confident Amato can play quarterback and kick.

"He makes up for his lack of height with his instincts," Dempsey said.

"He feels the pressure, and he stands in the pocket and takes hits. I don't care if a quarterback is 6-foot-3 or 5-foot-4, if you can't stand in the pocket and look past the rush and feel it around you, you're not going to be a good quarterback.

"Right now he'd like to kick and punt at Notre Dame. He's doing what he needs to get that done, and we'll see what happens if he gets there.

"He can definitely be a college football player, it's just a matter of which direction he wants to go with it."

Dempsey is not so confident about coaching the 2005 Irish without Amato.

"It's going to be weird without him next year because he's a kid I saw play in eighth grade when his brother John was our quarterback my first year," Dempsey said.

"Not having him around after four years is going to be difficult, not just from the coaching end, but we just enjoy having him around.

"People talk about how much a player can mean to a team. How about when somebody is your quarterback, your kicker and your punter, and has excelled at all three of them? It's hard to replace one of those on a year-to-year basis, much less all three in one."

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.



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