By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tommy Armstrong Jr. took a seat next to Gerald Foltz on a metal bench inside the Vanderbilt indoor football facility. The two shot the bull for about 10 minutes as Nebraska football players warmed up for practice.
Meanwhile, Ryker Fyfe was as dialed in as ever on the practice field, leading the No. 1 offense as it prepares for Friday’s Music City Bowl against Tennessee.
Two senior quarterbacks, two different extremes.
Such is life in college football, where nothing is predictable, especially not for a walk-on who took a chance on sticking out his career, just for a moment like this.
“It means a lot,” said Fyfe, the Grand Island native in his fifth season after joining as a walk-on. “It’s been a long journey, and not knowing if you’re going to play much, but that’s the risk you take of walking on.
“I mean I think it pays off. Starting three games at Nebraska means more than starting four years at UNK, but that’s just my opinion.”
Fyfe is starting because Armstrong has an injured hamstring he initially suffered in the Minnesota game, and aggravated even worse during the Huskers’ season-ending loss at Iowa. In between those games, he sat out, and Fyfe was confident in his second career start, leading Nebraska to victory over Maryland.
Fyfe couldn’t play against Iowa, thought, because of a broken bone in his wrist he suffered in that Maryland game, when Fyfe was 23-of-37 passing for 220 yards and a touchdown in a 28-7 victory.
“It’s feeling all good. I mean, I have it wrapped up but it’s feeling 100 percent,” Fyfe said, noting he can take snaps under center.
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said Fyfe has been locked in as he’s ever seen him as Nebraska has been through bowl preparation.
“I think going with the ones and just knowing you’ve got to play, you’ve got to be more locked in, more prepared,” Fyfe said. “I’ve been having a lot better approach, I think, these last two weeks.
“I’ve been a lot sharper in practice this week, just being more detailed, knowing that I’m going to play. It’s nice being pretty certain I’m going to play.”
It’s certainly a reward for a player who admitted to thinking about transferring midway through his career, especially after a coaching change following his sophomore season. He can't name everybody that helped convince him to stay, but Mike Riley, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and high school friend and teammate Sam Foltz, the senior punter and son of Gerald who died this summer, were among them.
“I just talked to the coaches and my parents and they thought it was the best option and thought might as well since you’re here, just work hard and hope for the best,” Fyfe said. “You’re the second guy, so you’re always one play away so you might as well stick it out.
“Here I am now, starting in the bowl game, so it will be fun.”
Armstrong’s career is ending on the other extreme, of course. He finishes his career with 44 starts, the most ever by a Nebraska quarterback, and a school-record 8,871 passing yards. His 625 completions are also a school record.
“It’s been rocky this year with injuries in the last 3-4 weeks,” Armstrong said. “It’s been a great thing for me being out here with my brothers, being out here with guys I graduated with, young guys I became friends with.
“As far as my career here, it’s been great for me … being able to make bonds and friendships with players and coaches.”
He will be sidelined along with his longtime roommate, decorated receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who’s out with a knee injury. Roommates again on this road trip, the two often discuss how badly they wish they could be on the field one more time this week.
“At the end of the day it’s about your health,” Armstrong said, referring specifically to himself. “It’s certain things that a certain person can do. You can’t be Superman. You can’t go out there do things how you used to do it in Week One or Week Two.”
Meanwhile, Armstrong is preparing to get himself healthy for Pro Day in Lincoln. He’s keeping his options open, he said, but will be spending time working out with wide receivers coach Keith Williams, a sure indication wide receiver may be the most likely option for Armstrong on the next level.
“I’ve played it here and there and high school and I’m not opposed,” Armstrong said. “Just a chance to go out there and do what I can do. I’m a hard worker. I’m a gritty player. I go out there and play as hard as I can.”
Just as Fyfe plans on doing Friday.
“I think Ryker has done a great job of preparing and getting those guys going,” Armstrong said. “I’m confident in him and his skill set to go out there and win the game for us.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.