HARRISONBURG—As D’Angelo Amos’ football career progressed from Meadowbrook to West Point Prep to James Madison, returning punts was one part of the game he never really ventured into.
At Meadowbrook, Amos played a variety of positions, from safety to quarterback. He played primarily safety at West Point Prep.
Amos remembers returning one kick at the end of his junior year at Meadowbrook, and that was about it.
But, upon his arrival at JMU in 2016, that began to change. Amos redshirted that first year, and Mike Houston, then the Dukes’ coach, gave Amos the opportunity to return punts. Amos became JMU’s scout team punt returner.
“He said, ‘If you want to go back there, go ahead,’ ” Amos said. “And it was just a chance to show him that I could do it.”
Amos took his chance and ran with it. As a sophomore in 2017, Amos was pushed into the Dukes’ primary punt returner role in the playoffs due to injury. He had a valuable 49-yard return in JMU’s second-round victory over Stony Brook.
Last year, Amos was JMU’s primary punt returner all year, and burst onto the scene. He led the country with an average of 22 yards per return, and three touchdowns.
Amos has proven he has the knack it takes to be a standout punt returner, even if it was a discipline he didn’t have much experience in before JMU—something that was just fun.
“Like even now when I do it it’s kind of like backyard football,” said Amos, who also became one of JMU’s starting safeties last year and was third on the team with 64 tackles. “Just ... throw it up and run, and just don’t get touched. I mean, that’s the goal, don’t get touched.”
At Meadowbrook, Amos hopped around from cornerback to outside linebacker to safety. He played quarterback as a senior, too, after the team lost it’s starter to transfer.
Amos then spent one year at West Point Prep, the U.S. Military Academy’s prep school—a time he’s grateful for. He learned time management, and fashioned a mental toughness that’s still helping him at JMU.
“Being out there on the field, especially in the heat and stuff, like I’m used to being in a combat uniform running seven miles … with fleece socks on and boots,” Amos said. “So it really helped me physically, mentally, just to get prepared and handle anything.”
Amos was drawn to JMU by multiple coaches he had prior connections to, including former cornerbacks coach Tripp Weaver, who coached Amos’ brother, DaShaun, at East Carolina.
With the Dukes, Amos admits it was nerve-wracking to get his first game experience returning punts in 2017. He returned a handful early in the season, but that was it until the end of the year. He returned one in JMU’s season finale against Elon and each of the team’s punts in each of its four playoff games, including the 49-yarder against Stony Brook.
“Being back there and making decisions with guys running at you, it took a lot,” Amos said. “But I think after that Stony Brook game, and I took a chance and it worked out, it gave me a lot of confidence.”
When Amos gets the ball on a punt return, it’s about getting north, instead of wasting energy going east and west. He’s benefitted from effective blocking, too.
“They work hard, they trust in me, they know I’m going to see what they see,” Amos said of his blockers. “So they know if I make a cut it’s because I see it. And that I know I’m going to put them in the best position to make their blocks.”
This offseason, in addition to learning new defensive coordinator’s Corey Hetherman’s scheme for his role at safety, Amos has spent time refining aspects of his punt returns, like ball security.
Three years after getting his chance, Amos is still running strong.
‘“The punt returner, that one’s more about having a savvy guy, which [Amos] is,” JMU coach Curt Cignetti said. “He may not be the fastest guy on the team, but you just have a knack.”