RCW: A Jayhawk
A mythical bird
In a way, describing Dorance Armstrong Jr., as mythical is inaccurate. In fact, the Texas Longhorns or any of the quarterbacks Armstrong sacked last season over a span of six- consecutive weeks would say the 6-4, 246-pound defensive end is very real.
What’s unreal about Armstrong is his physical ability on the field. He frequently makes plays that are video-game like, which is fitting as “Madden” is one of Armstrong’s favorite games. (Armstrong plays as the Miami Dolphins because he likes their uniforms). Last season, Kansas football supporters were fortunate to see Armstrong make plays that just might one day land him featured in his favorite video game.
There was Week 4, at Texas Tech, when Armstrong blasted around the edge in six steps and dove through contact at the Red Raiders’ quarterback, Patrick Mahomes II, yanking him to the ground with one arm.
Or Week 11, against Texas, Armstrong forced a Tyrone Swoopes fumble after dizzying a member of the Longhorn offensive line with four rapid jukes.
In the same game, after recovering a fumble, Armstrong uprooted a chasing Texas Longhorn in-stride with a vicious stiff-arm.
Many of Armstrong’s highlights seem near-magical, but the Kansas coaching staff and Armstrong himself are quick to attribute his abilities to the much more easily explained, hard work.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen first watched Armstrong on the basketball court, playing for North Shore High School in Houston. Bowen never questioned Armstrong’s athletic ability after seeing the future Jayhawk’s speed and hops. Armstrong is equally confident in his basketball ability and (sort of) joked about being able to fill Coach Self’s open basketball scholarship.
A natural-born athlete, Armstrong played soccer, baseball, basketball and football growing up. However, the congenital athlete and basketball state champion was not a natural-born star and arrived on KU’s campus undersized.
“You get a lot of star players that are kind of born on third base as a star, who are naturally good. Dorance has that talent, but he had to work to get the body to be a star at that position. He has the work ethic to be a star,” Bowen said.
Bowen is not alone in admiration of Armstrong’s work ethic. Defensive line coach Jesse Williams said the Kansas star can often be found working out outside of practice, a lot of the time with other players around him.
Even Armstrong was quick to acknowledge the hard work ahead of him, following the Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honor.
“It’s a preseason award. It doesn’t mean anything until after the season,” Armstrong said with a smile.
A noisy quarrelsome thing known to rob other nests
Last season, Armstrong ended his sophomore campaign second in the Big 12 in sacks (10), recorded 20 tackles for a loss and forced three fumbles, a season that concluded with All-Big 12 First Team honors.
Armstrong’s 2016 performance has drawn the attention of Kansas fans and Big 12 opponents alike. Offensive coordinators, offensive lines and quarterbacks across the conference now have a Crimson and Blue problem on their hands.
Orlando Brown, offensive tackle for the Oklahoma Sooners, spoke highly of Armstrong in an interview at Big 12 Media Day.
“He’s a guy that in college you very rarely see,” Brown said.
Opponents like Brown are locked in on stopping Armstrong, studying hard to protect their quarterbacks and to prevent a preseason award from becoming a postseason award.
“He’s got good first moves, but his best moves are his counter moves,” Brown said.
Armstrong welcomes opponents’ preparation and attention as his junior season begins.
“I’m glad they know about me and whatever they do with their offense is probably schemed to stop me,” Armstrong said.
Bowen is also aware of how Big 12 foes will turn their focus to stopping the anchor of his defensive unit.
“We, as coaches, need to help him and be creative with what we do with him to give him chances to make plays,” Bowen said.
Bowen’s X’s and O’s, plus Armstrong’s confidence in his own preparation and abilities, has Armstrong and company ready for Saturdays this fall.
“Let them do what they do,” Armstrong said.
A stealthy hunter
When asked which Big 12 quarterback he looked forward to getting to the most this season, Armstrong said, “All of them.”
Even mythical strength, speed or size would not make a great defensive end. Power requires patience and planning, while speed should be strategic and stealthy. In some of Armstrong’s best plays, he pauses for a moment to make a read before attacking a hole or shoving past an opponent. Williams praises Armstrong’s ability to use his body and abilities wisely.
“You can’t be a player of his stature without having it between the ears and football IQ,” Williams said.
Armstrong’s game is far more calculated than it appears in a blur on television or in Memorial Stadium. Each week, Armstrong determines and debates various moves with Bowen that should be utilized against each opponent.
“Practicing all week and making sure you watch film to know what the tackle and QB are going to do. It slows everything down for game day. Then on game day, everything is a reaction,” Armstrong said.
While sacking every opposing Big 12 quarterback is a goal of tremendous size, Armstrong has a plan that has proven successful. Calculated, scholarly preparation during the week results in the game surrounding Armstrong to appear in slow motion. With the game slowed down, Armstrong can utilize relentless effort that is the result of immeasurable hard work to dance past tackles, rush passers and bring Jayhawk fans to their feet.
Bowen describes the development of the Kansas football program as a situation in which a player must do the small things to be great. Developing the program is a marathon, not a sprint. It is the day by day grind of following the process.
The Kansas faithful are right to be excited. Dorance Armstrong Jr., embodies the development of Kansas football. Armstrong’s meticulous preparation, plus years of patience and hard work, have earned him success. Due to Armstrong’s success, there is attention surrounding Kansas football as the 2017 season begins that has not been felt in nearly a decade.
Armstrong is appearing on 2018 NFL Mock Draft Boards, a massive photo of him hangs outside of Memorial Stadium next to the likes of Orange Bowl Champions and Kansas All-Americans, then there is that Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honor to validate. If you were to ask Armstrong, the attention is just a part of the process and as always, he is ready.
This season when Kansas runs on to the field, the team is following a leader who is sprinting toward spotlight, determined to bring Kansas with him. It’s Dorance Armstrong Jr., a Jayhawk.