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Reaching a point of no return

A new coaching term surfaced at North Dakota State this month. Punts, kickoffs, returns, field goals -- labeled special teams in the past -- are now called special forces.

A new coaching term surfaced at North Dakota State this month. Punts, kickoffs, returns, field goals -- labeled special teams in the past -- are now called special forces.

That Bison football army has a big mission on Saturday: containing Tusculum College (Tenn.) senior Donald Amaker, a Green Beret of sorts on punt returns. He's proven his worth to more than one team.

Amaker is already 12th on the NCAA Division II career punt return list with 762 yards. That included a whopping 17.1 yards per return last year -- and that didn't include a few that got called back by penalty, including two touchdowns in one game.

He needs just fractions to finish his career in the top 10 in career average. His 13.6 is just three-tenths behind No. 10 Michael Fields of Mississippi College.

"He's electrifying for us," said Tusculum head coach Frankie DeBusk.

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So electric that teams are pulling the plug.

Amaker had 31 returns in 2001 for a 12.7 average. That was almost cut in half last year with 16 chances.

"A lot of people are kicking away from me," Amaker said. "I'm hoping this year that they'll give me a chance. It hurts my stats. It's real frustrating. I wish I could go over and tell the team to not be scared."

Division I-AA Tennessee-Martin wasn't scared last year. Amaker returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown to set a school record. He was a Football Gazette first-team All-American and a second-team d2.com All-American as a return specialist.

A defensive back last year, he's switching positions to wide receiver this year in an effort to take advantage of his ability.

"I'm glad about that," Amaker said. "I've wanted to play wide receiver since I got to college. I guess they're giving me the chance to help put points on the board."

Amaker, 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, was a backup defensive back last year. With both starting cornerbacks and starting safeties returning, moving Amaker to receiver was natural.

Just like his returns.

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"You have to see the field better than others and react to the defense," Amaker said.

NDSU has experience against Division II career leaders. Northwest Missouri State's Tony Miles is fifth on the career average list and Ferris State's Clarence Coleman is ninth. The Bison played against Miles twice in the Division II playoffs and Ferris played at the Fargodome in 1999.

Coleman returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and Miles returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown in the 1997 playoffs.

Amaker is the next threat.

"He's good, real good," said NDSU assistant coach Jeff McInerney. "He's hard to tackle. Scary. We'll just have to preach fundamentals and make sure we stay in our lanes."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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