Tommy Armstrong Jr. looks forward to Saturday’s Penn State challenge.
By Randy York
A retired coach who still puts stickers on helmets following Saturday night’s last nationally televised football game across the country is armed with quips, quotes and anecdotes. One of his favorites – both on television and on the national speaking circuit – is describing life as 10 percent about what happens to you and 90 percent about how you respond to it. Well, Nebraska redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. can certainly relate to the inherent wisdom in that quote, and he has no doubt about the way he intends to respond to meet Saturday’s challenge at Penn State.
“My teammates and my coaches trust me, and that’s something I have to live up to … these guys trust me no matter what,” Armstrong said at Monday’s press conference shortly after Bo Pelini, his head coach, said that no one has been harder on Armstrong than Tommy himself following Nebraska’s five turnovers in a 41-28 nationally televised loss to Michigan State last Saturday.
Pelini and Nebraska Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck aren’t the only ones encouraging Armstrong through disappointment. Running back Imani Cross sent Armstrong a text with this message: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a quarterback who throws 100 touchdowns and zero interceptions or one who throws zero touchdowns and 100 interceptions. We’re still going to trust you, and we’re still going to have your back.”
Cross’s Text Shows Teammates’ Unconditional Support
The text from Cross really hit home. “That touched me a lot and told me that no matter what the outcomes of our games are, I know my teammates trust me and have my back,” Armstrong said. “No matter what goes on, they’re going to be there for me. It helps me move on and helps me focus on next week.”
Asked Sunday if Armstrong was “a little down”, Pelini minced no words. “Yeah, I would say so,” he said. “But let me tell you, he’s a competitor. He’s down because he’s a competitor. He wasn’t feeling sorry for himself or anything else. I think he responded the right way. He’s going to respond the right way. He’s a tough guy. He’s a leader. He’s a competitor. And he’s hard on himself. That’s the thing I worry about Tommy probably the most is that he is very hard on himself. And maybe sometimes too hard. It’s one of those things where you just want to make sure he grows and continues to grow. He’s got to be able to move past something and not let it affect him moving forward. I think you’ll see him respond the right way this week.”
Pelini wasn’t just showing the power of positive thinking. He knows how fragile a young player can be. “It depends on the guy … we approach it the right way with him and he knows we have confidence in him,” he said. “I think he fully understands that and like I said, the future is going to be bright with Tommy. I think he’s going to be a heckuva football player. And he’s doing some really good things. He’s got to keep working on the little things and continue to develop. At the end of the day, he’s a freshman. He’s started, what, five, six games, whatever it is. Obviously he’s a work in progress.”
Armstrong: Being Hard on Himself Part of Being a Leader
One reporter asked Armstrong if he was too hard on himself. “I can be too hard on myself sometimes,” he said, “but that’s part of being a leader. It’s something I need to fix.” Even leaders need affirmation, and Saturday night Armstrong talked to his roommates and his parents, who called from Texas to check up on him. “Sometimes it’s just good to talk through things with them because they’ve been there with me through tough times and they’ve been through good times with me.”
And here’s where one of Lou Holtz’s favorite observations rings true from the first paragraph. “Sometimes, it’s not about having a good game or bad game; it’s how you respond,” Armstrong said. “That’s what I did last week for Michigan State, and we thought it was going to be a close game. We have to fix what happened and try going from there. We just have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Both Joe Ganz and Taylor Martinez have told Armstrong how bad stuff happens. “You’re going to have a bad game, but at the same time, you have to respond the right way,” Tommy said. “Mistakes killed us. Most of those start with me, and I have to fix that. Most people say that it’s part of being a freshman, but no matter what year you are in the game, you have to protect the ball.”
Tommy’s Next Challenge: Huge Crowd at Penn State
Armstrong insists he’s ready for another giant crowd of 100,000-plus fans that come with the challenge at Penn State. “Michigan was loud, but at the same time, I know how to key into the game and stay focused on what I’m doing,” Armstrong said. “I need to communicate with my offensive line and my receivers … I feel like it’s going to be a great game, and I think we’re going to do well.”
The Huskers lost momentum Saturday, but they remain motivated. “We want to finish strong,” Armstrong said. “Last week is last week. We have two more (regular-season) games and then a bowl game against whoever they put up against us. We’re going to prepare the right way for them.”
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