Dorance Armstrong Jr.: The path to a dream
By: Katy Lonergan
With the 2018 National Football League (NFL) Combine looming Kansas football star Dorance Armstrong Jr., is getting more excited with each passing day. Armstrong, who announced his plans to leave school early to enter the 2018 NFL Draft in early January, is looking forward to representing the Jayhawks in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“If I had one word to describe how I feel right now it would be excited,” said Armstrong, a Houston, Texas, native. “My whole life, as long as I can remember, my dream has been to play in the NFL. I am getting closer to that dream, but there is still work to be done.”
Armstrong, the first Jayhawk to participate in the NFL Combine since a trio of KU players in Ben Heeney, Trevor Pardula and JaCorey Shepherd took part in the 2015 edition, will make his way to Indianapolis on Thursday, March 1. He will go through interviews with NFL teams on Saturday, March 3 and will take part in the physical portion of the combine on Sunday, March 4.
The first step in Armstrong making his dream a reality was signing with Kansas. Undersized for his position at the time, the Jayhawk coaches had the vision of the player Armstrong is today.
“Coach (Clint) Bowen recruited me and Coach (David) Beaty and all of the coaches saw in me the player I wanted to be even though I was underweight at the time,” said Armstrong. “They had a plan for me and I knew with my work ethic and their coaching I could reach my goals.”
Beaty and Bowen’s plan for Armstrong’s development was not the only reason he decided to become a Jayhawk—the football program owes an assist to basketball. During the period of time for Armstrong to make official visits before signing with a college, he was right in the middle of his own basketball season which limited his opportunities to take visits. His first and what would turn out to be his only visit was to Kansas.
“My mom and I had a great time during our visit and it just felt like family,” said Armstrong. “She felt good about sending me away to school there because she knew Coach Beaty and everyone at Kansas was going to do their best to help me be successful in both football and life.”
During his time as a Jayhawk, through Armstrong’s tireless work ethic and the KU staff’s attention to detail in his development, the once light defensive lineman turned into a dominating defensive end.
While working on getting his weight up, Armstrong played in all 12 games, starting the final five as a freshman in 2015. He finished his initial campaign in the Crimson and Blue with 23 total tackles, 5.0 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks, while getting acclimated to the rigors of the Big 12 Conference.
After a strong offseason of work in the weight room, Armstrong made his presence felt in his sophomore season. He was a consensus All-Big 12 First Team honoree and was Kansas’ first unanimous selection after collecting 20.0 TFLs and 10.0 sacks. His 10 sacks topped the Big 12 and ranked 18th nationally. He was a force in leading the Jayhawks to a victory over Texas as he tallied a career-best 11 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery against his home state Longhorns.
Although his numbers might not show it, Armstrong’s development continued during his junior season. While his focus shifted more to helping KU stop the run and placed less of an emphasis on him primarily rushing the quarterback, Armstrong had another strong year, finishing with 63 total tackles, 9.5 TFLs and 2.0 sacks on his way to garnering All-Big 12 Second Team honors.
“Even though my numbers were not the same, I grew a lot during my junior season,” said Armstrong. “Coach (Jesse) Williams taught me a lot about how important using your hands is a defensive end. He brought a lot of things to my game. He really helped me better understand the concepts of playing the position and everything we did in drill work translated straight to the games.”
Now it’s time for Armstrong to take his next step towards achieving his goal of playing in the NFL. He has been in Houston working out for the past two months at the The Gym at the Frozen Ropes, preparing for the combine drills and position work. And now it’s time to go show the world what the Big 12 Conference already knows.
While Armstrong will be the only Jayhawk in Indianapolis for the combine, he knows he has a tremendous amount of support from his Kansas family.
“I talk to Daniel (Wise), Joe (Dineen), Steven (Sims)—really a lot of guys regularly still,” said Armstrong. “I am still included in a lot of conversations. In a weird way I feel like I am still there sometimes because they are still pushing me to be great to this day. I have my moments where I wish I was still there around those guys. They are such a great group of people. I will always be proud to be a Jayhawk.”
Just as Armstrong’s KU teammates are supporting him on his path to the NFL, he is still in their corner, as well.
“I tell them all the time to keep grinding the way we have been since the day we got to Lawrence,” said Armstrong. “I encourage them to get the new players to step up and get them on the same page right away. Keep the same goals and don’t stop until they are achieved. I know there are better days ahead for KU football, and I can’t wait to be a part of the celebration when those days get here.”
And when Armstrong’s NFL dreams come true, Jayhawk Nation will be celebrating with him too.