ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Danny Amendola joined the St. Louis Rams in mid-September. For such a late start, he's been a major contributor.
With two games to go, the 5-11, 186-pound Amendola has already set three franchise records in the return game. No need to take a back seat to Rams big names of the past such as Dante Hall, Tony Horne, Az-Zahir Hakim and Todd Kinchen.
Amendola hasn't broken one all the way yet, but not for lack of opportunity. His 1,435 kickoff return yards eclipse the mark of 1,379 set by Horne in 2000, and his total return yardage of 1,643 also is a franchise best.
Growing up, Amendola admired the exploits of Hall, who shared the NFL record with six career return touchdowns before the Browns' Joshua Cribbs topped that last week.
"He's kind of a guy I always looked up to. A human joystick, was what they called him," Amendola said. "Just to be mentioned with some of those guys is crazy."
As for Amendola, teammate Chris Ogbonnaya calls him a "human pinball."
Amendola leads the NFL with 57 kickoff returns, and needs only four more to pass Drew Hill's record set in 1981. He's also the team's third leading receiver with 34 catches, a 7.9-yard average and one touchdown.
Tough player, too, in a diminutive package. Amendola sustained a concussion on a perfectly timed hit by the Lions' Zach Follett that flattened him on a kickoff return on Nov. 1, and didn't miss a game thanks to the Rams' bye week.
"He's got a huge heart," special teams coach Tom McMahon said. "He pops right back up. And if you watch him, he's not a showboat guy."
Quite an NFL debut for a player undrafted out of Texas Tech and plucked from the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad after spending all of last season on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad.
"What I needed coming here was to gain experience and that confidence I can play in this league," Amendola said. "It'll be easier next year, knowing what to expect."
Mostly, what he's come to expect is a lot of good, hard contact.
"You're going to get hit, you're going to hit some people," Amendola said. "That's what it's about."
Amendola argued to keep playing after the concussion, even though he later admitted that "the hit didn't hurt but my mind wasn't working." He's not worried about it happening again.
"I was always told if you play as hard as you can, you won't get injured as much as if you're coasting around and not aware of your surroundings," Amendola said. "That's when you get hurt, so I try to stay out of that situation."
Amendola is averaging 25.2 yards on kickoff returns, sixth-best in the NFC, with a 58-yarder last week against the Texans. After scoring his first career touchdown on a 2-yard reception last week, he's eager to get a return TD.
"Coach has great schemes, stuff I've never seen before I got here," Amendola said. "It'll come with time, I'm sure it will."
McMahon expects it to happen, too.
"The biggest thing is guys believe in him because he plays so danged hard and he practices hard," the coach said. "I think he deserves it. I think this unit deserves that, with how they block for him."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)