After he had chosen Nebraska over TCU, the only other big-time school to offer him a scholarship, the secretaries in the Sweetwater High guidance counselor's office, where Willie volunteered during his free periods, threw him a signing-day party. When Michelle accepted Willie's invitation and came to town for the party, only longtime faculty members, who knew her as a former student, realized who she was. Later that summer when it came time to pack for the trip to Nebraska, Liz Miller, who took Amos in after the Hamiltons moved away, made him pick out a new bedspread to take with him, along with a stack of prepaid phone cards that the Sweetwater faculty had purchased. "I got a call from a different person every night," says Miller, "asking, 'What does Willie need?' "
Finally, a couple weeks before taking Amos to Lincoln for his freshman year, Miller discovered that he didn't have a driver's license. Prior to taking his driver's test in Sweetwater, Amos didn't come close to passing the eye exam. "The kid is blind as a bat, and no one knew," says Miller, who purchased contact lenses for him. "How was he catching footballs?"
The confidence that he had developed in high school nearly dissolved when he saw all the talent around him on his first day of football camp. However, he felt better soon after he participated in the first set of conditioning drills. "He's the most athletic player I've seen at Nebraska," says senior cornerback Keyuo Craver. This summer Amos put up an impressive score on a test that included an agility run (he had the best time), the 40-yard dash (his 4.45 tied for the fastest) and the vertical leap (36.5 inches).
Though they knew he could cover a big chunk of field—"like Willie Mays," says secondary coach George Darlington—the Nebraska staff was initially afraid that Amos was too gentle a soul to deliver a bone-crunching hit. He turned out to be a sure tackier but grew frustrated while learning the intricacies of the Huskers' multiple-scheme defense. "He's a perfectionist who wants to get everything right on the first try," says Darlington. Whenever Amos missed an assignment last season, the coaches quietly corrected him. "You can't holler at Willie," says Darlington.
No one has had to. On a team beset by off-the-field problems—four players were arrested in the off-season on charges ranging from disturbing the peace to misdemeanor assault—Amos avoids trouble the same way he did in Sweetwater. When he is not sketching or hanging out with his girlfriend of eight months, Nebraska volleyball player Jenae Dowling, he'll take a rope to the rec center on campus and start jumping. Although he dreams of traveling around the world putting on jump rope exhibitions, he admits that the prospect of making a comfortable living as an NFL player (and helping his family) is appealing. "I love my mom. She had to do what she had to do," says Amos, who occasionally talks to his mother and father on the telephone. "All I want is enough money to give my mom and dad a vacation. I've been all over the country, and they've never been outside Texas."
If he continues to play with the self-assurance that he's shown early this season, Amos has a chance to join a long list of Nebraska defensive backs who have made it in the pros. (Seven are currently in the NFL.) "Willie perseveres on every play. He's been doing that his whole life," says Huskers defensive coordinator Craig Bohl. "He's got a big upside."
Speaking of ups, Amos got a fair dose of them while making his first start two weeks ago in front of 77,473 Nebraska fans. After that game against TCU, he even admitted that football might soon become as much fun for him as jumping rope. "Now that I'm getting comfortable enough," he says, "I can start putting a little style into my game."
As he told an assembly of Lincoln elementary school students, for whom he performed a jump rope exhibition this spring, "Everybody has a talent. There's going to be a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but you have to find your talent and keep going with it."