Former Husker is NU Basketball’s Next Showstopper
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Willie Amos and His Jump Rope Have a Tough Act to follow in Quick Change
Three days after Oklahoma State escaped Lincoln with an overtime win over Nebraska in the Big 12 Conference, you find yourself in a dentist’s chair with your mouth numbed up and Dr. Peter Sartori ready to go to work.
“Tough loss on Saturday,” he said. “Great atmosphere, though. Game was great, and what a halftime show! Like everyone else, I’m still trying to figure out how that lady changed costumes in a second or two right in front of our eyes.”
Join the crowd. “Darndest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Lincoln’s Jim Seiler, who was sitting five rows up from the Devaney Center floor, near mid-court. “Everyone I was sitting with couldn’t believe what they saw at halftime, and that act was right in front of us . . . only time I’ve never left my seat at halftime because we were all still asking each other ‘How’d she do that?’ when the second half started.”
“She” is really Dania Kaseeva, a second-generation performer from the world renowned Moscow State Circus. Kaseeva has a world-class background in ballet, gymnastics and dance and worked the Nebraska-Oklahoma State halftime with her husband, David Michael Maas.
The two combine a series of elegant ballroom sequences into a progression of dramatically colorful costume changes. They call themselves “Quick Change”, a perfect name for the NBA’s No.1-rated halftime act, based on a vote among the league’s operations directors. No wonder David & Dania always seem to show up on ESPN’s Sports Center.
Quick Change can puzzle and flabbergast a basketball crowd more than Cookie Miller coming out of nowhere with a steal and a layup, and here’s the good news: The Devaney Center’s next halftime act has some intrigue of its own.
Quick Change Has Even Dumbfounded Willie Amos
“I’ve seen Quick Change on ‘America’s Got Talent’ on TV. That’s a very cool show,” said ex-Husker football player Willie Amos, who has the dubious distinction of following that world-famous act with his world-class jump roping exhibition Wednesday night during halftime of the Nebraska-Kansas game.
“I’m only one person. I can only do so much, but I’ll try my best to be another showstopper,” said Amos, who started the 2008 season at cornerback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League.
Unlike David & Dania’s non-stop and incredibly choreographed dance exhibition that has been performed before the President of the United States, Amos won’t know exactly what he’s going to do until he’s introduced and steps on the court Wednesday night.
“I don’t have a set routine. What I do is called freestyle,” said Amos, who won a national championship in jump roping when he was 17 at Disney World in Orlando and followed that with three partners in a world championship jump roping performance in St. Louis.
“That’s when I was jumping rope 2 1/2 hours a day in Sweetwater, Texas,” Amos said. “I haven’t had that kind of time since before I went to Nebraska to play football. But I’m getting back into the sport in a different way. Three friends of mine and I have just incorporated a new business – Jumpin’ Sports Industries. After jumping rope our whole lives, performing at exhibitions and teaching the sport to others separately, we decided to combine our skills and our energies and make it a business, if not a lifetime profession. We’ll see where it goes.”
Approximately 12,000 Nebraska fans will get a birds-eye view of what Amos can do.
For Willie, It’s All About Starting a R-E-V-O-L-U-T-I-O-N
“Freestyles are at least 45 seconds and no more than 90 seconds,” he said. “I’ll start out with some basic tricks and then show some multiples. I’ll do a series of double-unders and a series of triple-unders. I’ll probably work my way up to a quad-under and maybe even try a quin-under if I’m moving fast enough.”
A double-under means two revolutions of a jump rope before Amos’ feet hit the floor again. Can he really work his way up to five revolutions? “Yes,” he said. “Once I get going, people watching me won’t even be able to see the rope.”
Invisible rope speed, as amazing as it is, probably will never match a one-second complete wardrobe change in the “awe” category, but it does stagger the mind’s grasp of physics.
Sometimes, Amos’ biggest problem is his hair. “I had to get a skull-cap to keep my dreadlock from flying everywhere and catching my rope and messing me up,” he said. “I thought about cutting my hair a bit shorter, but I’m going to give the cap a try for this performance.”
Amos has a couple of power tricks in his bag – one that combines jumping rope with push-ups and another that integrates his core-skill with hand-stands.
There’s another “must-have” trick in his arsenal. “I sit on my butt and start jumping rope,” Amos said. “And I keep it going for one reason – to keep the crowd giggling. They always get a good laugh out of that one.”
His penchant for showmanship defies what really drives Willie Amos. “Whenever I teach or perform anywhere, it’s for one reason – to give back to God what He’s given to me,” he said. “My philosophies are mainly Christian-based. I try to use my talents to help real people deal with real issues.”
His Speeches about Jumping Began in NU’s Life Skills Program
That perspective began at Nebraska, when Amos joined the athletic department’s Tour of Excellence, sponsored by Life Skills.
“I went all over jumping rope and talking to young people in schools and others in hospitals,” he said. “I remember teaching two P.E. classes at the same time in Ogallala. I may free-lance jumping rope, but I never rambled in my presentations. They were always very precise and dealt with all kinds of life issues – adversity, persistence, listening, respect, accountability . . . the range was very wide, but all positive.”
Sometimes, if not often, Amos had to listen to himself on the same subjects. A prep standout in football, basketball and track, Amos played in all 12 of Nebraska’s games as a freshman in 2000. In 2001, he started seven games at safety. One start was an eight-tackle performance in Nebraska’s national championship loss to Miami in the Rose Bowl. A knee injury the next season kept Amos on the sidelines in 2002, and he never really returned to form after moving to wide receiver.
A one-time practice squad member of the Chicago Bears, who signed him as a free agent, Amos has been plagued by a series of joint injuries. This past season in the Canadian League was his first injury-free season in football since his sophomore year in college.
“My fondest memory at Nebraska was the first and only game my mom was able to watch me play in Lincoln,” he recalled. “It was the last home game in 2001, and we beat Kansas State (31-21). I had two interceptions that game and took one back for a touchdown.”
Amos has been too busy resurrecting his own career to concentrate much on Nebraska. “I did watch the Gator Bowl and saw some real progress,” he said. “I know Kansas is the defending national champions in basketball, but I don’t keep up with basketball either. I’m too busy, trying to use the gifts I’ve been given.”
Striving for Excellence Helps Amos Change People’s Minds
A member of the Extraordinary Epsilon Rho chapter of the worldwide Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Amos shares its commitment to make contributions to society in general, with particular emphasis in the African-American community.
He and one of his business partners live in Dayton, Ohio. His other two partners live in Houston.
“When you strive for a certain excellence, you can help change people’s perceptions about a lot of things,” Amos said. “I started jumping rope in fourth grade and never stopped. Even in high school, after whatever practice I had that day, I’d still jump rope for 2 ½ hours that night.”
It was not time wasted. “I try to enlighten people about what jump roping is and can be,” Amos said. “They all have this preconception that it’s only for the schoolyards, but I take it to a much higher level. When they see me jump, it changes people’s minds. Sometimes, it even inspires a child to get up and do something different and fight that terrible word – obesity.”
Sometimes, it has the same effect on adults.
Last June, shortly after he’d signed his Winnipeg contract, Amos inquired about speaking in the community. “School was out, and there were no opportunities,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Manitoba called the team and asked if there were any players who could help teach some basic lessons about fitness.”
The Blue Bombers called Amos, and “it was a match made in heaven,” he said. “I’m going there again next month to teach another full week of classes.”
Yes, Willie Amos will take his jump rope with him.
And when he sits on his butt and starts jumping, the Canadians will laugh just like you will . . . that is, if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket to Wednesday night’s game.