'Angry' Nick Amendola shines for IUP football
When a player needs a dose of reality, IUP football coach Paul Tortorella knows exactly what to say.
“I like to tell guys that they couldn't play this game 25 years ago,” Tortorella said Tuesday as he and the No. 3 Crimson Hawks began in-depth preparations for Assumption, their opponent in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.
One player Tortorella has not used his quip on is sophomore linebacker Nate Amendola, a Norwin grad who caught Tortorella's eye while playing quarterback for the Knights.
Tortorella, who was IUP's defensive coordinator at the time, saw an athletic, tough football player in Amendola. He also saw a player who could contribute quickly.
His hunch was correct.
“Nick is just an old-school football player. No doubt he could have played 25 years ago or any other era,” Tortorella said. “One of the great things about him is he transformed himself to play how football is played now. His intangibles set him apart. He's just a tough-minded, physical individual. You don't get guys like him too often.”
Amendola (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) leads IUP (12-0) in tackles with 91 after his team-high 10 were part of a dominant defensive effort in a 44-10 victory against West Chester in the second round of the tournament. It was the fourth time this season Amendola had 10 or more tackles in a game.
“I never would have guessed that with all the great athletes we have on defense that I would be leading the team in tackles. It's humbling for sure,” Amendola said. “Honestly, it's hard to believe.”
Maybe for Amendola, who earned second-team All-PSAC honors this season, but not for Tortorella and his teammates.
“What he might not have in foot speed, he makes up for in athleticism,” Tortorella said. “He plays really hard. He's smart. He's quiet, but he gets angry on the field. He's exactly what we need from the position.”
IUP prefers playing two linebackers, so much is expected from Amendola and fellow starter Damon Lloyd (6-0, 235).
They must be strong open-field tacklers who can drop back in pass coverage, pressure the quarterback and be ready to challenge running backs.
Their tackle numbers likely would be higher, but the Crimson Hawks feature a dominant defensive front. IUP has an eight-player rotation on the defensive line, led by Deandre Easterling (13 1⁄2 tackles for loss), Dondrea Tillman (11 1⁄2) and Justin Weldon (10 1⁄2).
Against West Chester, IUP had 14 tackles for loss (five sacks).
“For me, the big thing is just to do my job,” Amendola said. “I don't need to do anything out of the ordinary for this defense. There's so many athletes in our secondary, and our D-line is just unbelievable. ... I was telling one of our senior D-lineman the other day that I'm really going to miss him next year. They've made my job a lot easier with the push they get up front.”
IUP will need that push against Assumption (11-1) in the Super Region One championship at noon Saturday at Miller Stadium.
The Greyhounds already beat two PSAC teams — Kutztown in the season opener and Cal (Pa.) in the first round of the playoffs — and feature one of D-II's most dangerous players in Deonte Harris.
The receiver has 55 catches for 744 yards and eight touchdowns, and he has game-changing special teams talent. Harris averages 40.3 yards per kickoff return and 26.3 yards per punt return.
He has eight return touchdowns this season, an NCAA Division II single-season record.
His 12 career returns TDs are also a Division II record.
“He's a very good athlete and a very explosive player, and they live on the big play,” Amendola said. “I do think we're playing well. We have that playoff mindset.”