By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
Of the dozens of Nebraska Pro Day spectators, including 23 NFL scouts and another from the Canadian Football League, at least one openly expressed his approval of Tommy Armstrong Jr.
“He’s looking really good – especially coming off a hamstring,” the middle-aged man said from a roped-off area in the corner of Cook Pavilion. “To me, he’s blowing it out of the water.”
He paused, then laughed.
“But what do I know? I’m just Dad.”
A very proud, happy dad, that Tommy Armstrong Sr.
The elder Armstrong, from Cibalo, Texas, watched Tuesday as Armstrong Jr. and other Husker seniors from the 2016 season sweated through position drills, performance testing and weight lifting – some in hope of increasing their NFL stock, others simply trying to catch the eye of a scout and earn another tryout.
All of this, of course, is in preparation for the NFL Draft in April. Nebraska is the only school in the Common Draft Era (since 1967) to have multiple players taken every year in the NFL Draft.
“I’m very proud,” Armstrong Sr. said. “It’s been a long journey. I know from Day One (for me) it was, ‘Nebraska?’ But I see the vision now that he saw. It worked out well. It was unfortunate with the injury right there at the end, but I think it was God saying, ‘Hey, OK, we need to focus and get healthy and get ready for this.’ ”
Armstrong Sr., originally from Gulfport, Mississippi, also played college football -- “for the great Emory Bellard,” he said, proudly -- at Mississippi State. Bellard invented the wishbone offense at Texas in the late 1960s and brought it with him through coaching stops that including Mississippi State.
Armstrong Sr. joined the Bulldogs as a running back for the wishbone but changed positions.
“I made All-American as a running back and a cornerback in high school,” he said, “so it was easy to convert to cornerback.”
It mattered little, anyway, because Armstrong Sr. left Mississippi State after playing just two seasons, in 1984 and 1985.
“Early parenthood drove me to go get a job,” said Armstrong Sr., who joined the Army for 10 years, settled in Texas and began working in civil service, which he’s done for more than 20 years.
Armstrong Jr. lived with his mother in Mississippi until Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf coast and severely damaged their home. That, in essence, led to Armstrong Jr. moving to Cibalo, Texas, to live with his father. He attended Steele High School, some 30 miles northeast of San Antonio.
“As athletic as he is,” Armstrong Sr. said of his son, “when he got to Cibalo, Coach (Mike) Jinks, who coaches Bowling Green now, said, ‘Hey, he’s too athletic to not have on the field.”
Those words flashed through the head of Armstrong Sr. as he watched his son display his athleticism in hopes of again proving he’s too valuable to keep off the field, this time on the professional level.
“I could see Tommy playing anything because he’s done it all – linebacker, cornerback, receiver,” Armstrong Sr. said of the positions his son played in high school before settling at quarterback beginning his junior season.
“My phone’s been blowing up. Everybody wants to know how he’s doing, from Gulfport to Cibolo to guys I went to school with that have been following him.”
Armstrong Jr., who missed two of Nebraska’s final three games because of a torn hamstring, said he’s “well past 100 percent” healthy after 2-3 months of recovery time. He weighed 215 pounds Tuesday, or 15 pounds lighter than his playing weight last season, and ran an unofficial 40-yard dash time he heard was in the 4.53-4.55 range. His goal was to run a 4.7.
“I ran as fast as I wanted to run and did a great job of doing those position drills,” Armstrong Jr. said.
He’d also consulted the help of Nebraska receivers coach Keith Williams, knowing that NFL scouts would likely be considering Armstrong Jr. as a receiver.
“It was tough but I think I prepared well throughout these two months,” Armstrong Jr. said. “Coach Dub helped me out a lot and got me ready for those routes. We threw a lot as well, and I think I did a pretty good job of running and doing three-cones and 6-yard shuttle and things like that.”
Armstrong Jr. said there hasn’t been much mention of him as a running back, “but who knows? I’ve got my options open.”
He labels himself simply as an athlete going forward.
“Taking care of my health was the biggest key in preparing for this day,” Armstrong said. “Not being able to play in that last bowl game kind of got to me, but I knew what was ahead and what I had to prepare for and how challenging it was going to be. I think I did a great job of preparing, getting up every morning and working out with the senior class.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.