LUBBOCK, Texas — Jace Amaro is having one of those special seasons that ends with broken records and leads to a career in the NFL.
The Texas Tech tight end has become a dominant force in the Red Raiders’ pass-happy offense. Not only does he lead his team with 79 catches for 1,035 yards, he leads the entire Big 12 and ranks fifth nationally.
At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, there is no other player like him in the country. He can block and catch passes over the middle as a traditional tight end, and he can he can roam all over the field as a slot receiver. He resembles the tight end on your fantasy football team more than a college junior.
“I am able to win a one-on-one matchup every single time it is out there,” Amaro said by phone earlier this week. “I know that is going to be key in the NFL. They want you to be able to win one-on-one matchups. So that’s what I focus on, and that’s what I do.”
Amaro can succeed against double-teams, too. As the season has progressed, defensive coordinators have gone out of their way to try and slow his production. He has seen everything from linebackers and defensive backs to zone coverages.
But none of it has worked. Texas Tech coaches design new ways to get him the ball before each game, and Amaro always shows something new. He is coming off arguably his best game, a 15-catch, 174-yard day against Oklahoma State.
“Even when he’s covered, he’s not really covered because of his wingspan,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Our quarterbacks have a comfort level with him so they feel if they get it close, he’ll go up and get it.”
Stopping Amaro will be a top priority for K-State’s defense on Saturday. But it is unclear how the Wildcats will go about defending him.
They traditionally bring a safety down to cover a catch-first tight end, but they don’t usually face a tight end of Amaro’s stature. K-State players struggle to compare him to anyone they have seen before.
They could ask one of their linebackers to drop into coverage against him, but K-State’s linebackers are better against the run. It might have to be a group effort.
“He’s pretty unique,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “Everybody knows he’s going to get the ball. Last week they knew he was going to get the ball and he gets 15 catches. He has great hands, he runs good routes, he gets himself open and advances the ball once he gets it.
“That speed and size generates power and he can run over you and through you. He’s a chore to handle.”
Still, K-State defenders aren’t backing down from the challenge.
“Anybody can cover him, it’s just a matter of being in the right position at the right time,” linebacker Mike Moore said. “He’s going to catch some balls on us and we have to be prepared to stop him.”
Amaro is expecting a new defensive look from K-State. He is also expecting another big game.
When you average nearly nine catches and 115 yards, that’s always your mentality.
“I know defenses are going to key on me, but I’m not the only weapon on our team,” Amaro said. “We have guys who can make plays on the outside and on the inside. If they focus on me, I see that as compliment. I kind of just go with it. It’s one of those things where if you want to be a great player you have to be able to handle it. I know I can.”