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Danny Amendola returns to Boston to support meaningful cause

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Amendola on why Relay for Life matters to him (0:58)

Danny Amendola tells Mike Reiss how cancer has affected his family and why he's raising awareness for Relay for Life. (0:58)

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Veteran wide receiver Danny Amendola was the celebrity guest at the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life" at Merrimack College on Friday night, flying into town from Florida to help a cause that has great meaning to him.

"I lost my aunt to breast cancer. It was 2012, I flew back up to Boston because that was when I was still with the Rams, and I remember coming through the city and driving up to Maine, in Yarmouth, paying our respects to her and all she did for our family. She was a great woman and it was a great celebration of her life. It was something I'll never forget," a reflective Amendola said. "We spent a lot of great times in Maine together, in Boston and in Texas.

"Cancer is a very real thing. it takes a lot of lives every year. It's something we can always pursue and try to find a cure, and try to raise money. That's why I'm here. I want to raise money. I want to meet some of the kids, some of the people who have gone through the struggle through cancer."

Speaking at Merrimack College at the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life", Danny Amendola relayed some advice to the students in the crowd: "Surround yourself with people that are positive influences in your life that want to help and want to care. ... I think that's the secret."

Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer ago

Amendola, who played for the New England Patriots from 2013 to 2017 before signing with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent this offseason, was serenaded with cheers from the hundreds in attendance.

"It means a lot," he said. "I played five long years here. Boston will always have a place in my heart. I'll always call Boston home, regardless of what city I'm living in or what team I'm playing for. My mom still lives here. My grandparents live here. I love this city."

The "Relay for Life" is an overnight fundraiser that the American Cancer Society says is the largest in the world for saving lives from cancer. From the thousands of "Relay for Life" events around the country two years ago, $230 million was raised, according to event organizers.

Amendola shared stories with the crowd, met with cancer survivors, and surprised a few members of Merrimack's football team by chatting with them before the event.

"He was so nice to us, came up and started the conversation [by saying], 'What's up, boys?' It was surprising and almost left me speechless -- an NFL player just started a conversation with me," student Bryan Shields said.

One of his messages to the crowd was, "Just keep the perseverance alive, keep the strength alive, never give up. You gotta believe. ...

"With whatever you do in life, there is going to be some adversity, some things you can't control. It's not easy. I've been blessed to surround myself with good parents, and good people, and I think that's the secret: Surround yourself with people that are positive influences in your life that want to help and want to care. Without people in my life like my parents and coaches, I truly wouldn't be here. I'm very appreciative of them."