Tommy Armstrong Jr. posed for 26 different elementary schools Tuesday.
Editor’s note: Nebraska has sold nearly 50,000 tickets to Saturday’s Red/White Spring Game. Wednesday is the deadline to order tickets and have them sent by mail. Fans also can click here to buy and print your own Spring Game tickets and avoid long lines on game day.
By Randy York
Whatever format Bo Pelini and his coaching staff come up with for Saturday’s 2 p.m. annual Nebraska Red/White Spring Game scrimmage, Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Charles Jackson will be ready to roll, eager to please and always engaged – just like they were Tuesday when the Huskers’ sophomore starting quarterback and junior defensive back gave their undivided attention to more than 200 elementary school students from Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue, Fremont, Papillion, Hartington, Kearney, LaVista, Lawrence-Nelson, Weston and Elkhorn.
It was NFL Fuel Up to Play 60 Day at Memorial Stadium, and Armstrong and Jackson were pivotal performers who encouraged and inspired every student to make healthier choices and to commit to at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
Like Everything, It’s What You Put into It
“I remember being a young athlete and growing up and finding a way to go to events similar to this,” Jackson said. “I went to places where everybody was really motivating, and I went to places where they didn’t put their hearts in it and show respect to the people who came. If you saw us today, you know every football player out there gave these kids 100 percent of their time and ability. My goal was to put a smile on everyone’s face, and I completed my goal. Everybody worked hard and had fun today.”
Armstrong agreed. “I had a great time with these kids,” he said. “The best part of the day was making everybody happy.” Armstrong and Jackson weren’t the only Huskers going all out for grade-schoolers who had earned the right to come to Lincoln because of their diligence to eat healthy and get active. The Midwest Dairy Council rewards student efforts to focus on nutrition and partners with the National Dairy Council and the NFL while working in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture.
Nine Additional Football Players Volunteered
With that background, nine additional Husker football players had smiling, action-ready faces to make this “reward summit” as fun as possible. Joining Armstrong and Jackson were Matt Finnin, Trey Foster, Chris Long, Kevin Maurice, Mike Moudy, Mark Pelini, Brent Qvale, Jordan Westerkamp and Austin Williams. Nebraska men’s basketball players Shavon Shields and Leslee Smith were leaders steeped in the action. Other Husker participants included Ian Ousley (wrestling), Mayme Conroy (soccer), and four members of NU’s swimming and diving team – Katie Ditter, Anna Filipcic, Jacqueline Juffer, and Julia Roller. Keeping 202 kids busy and excited was a well-planned experience. While football players engaged students in fun games on Memorial Stadium turf, other student-athletes helped kids participate in a nutrition game in both the morning and afternoon sessions. When emcee Keith McWhirter asked the participants if they had fun learning new things from Armstrong and his fellow Huskers, the kids responded with increasingly resounding cheers that rocked Nebraska’s third-floor gathering, which included healthy lunches with great views of Nebraska’s home facilities for football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and softball.
A Chicago-based emcee who works with the NFL on similar events at an international game in London, the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl, McWhirter praised Nebraska’s passion in working with kids for four hours. “It was a pleasure to work with everyone here,” he said. “They listen, participate, get excited and cheer the people who are motivating them. This whole event is about fueling up to play 60 minutes. It’s about eating smart, being active and spreading your message in the community. I was impressed with Tommy Armstrong as the featured speaker and everyone else who volunteered.”
Six-Step, Student-Led Initiative, Reward
Omaha’s Caryn Kusleika, who oversees the event for the Midwest Dairy Council, was equally impressed. “It was a great day,” she said. “This is our main event, a reward for those who have stayed active and played 60 year-round. This is a 6-step, student-led initiative for kids helping other kids. Tommy Armstrong was so motivational and so cooperative getting his picture taken with every one of the 26 schools.”
Members of the program submitted questions in advance and Armstrong put his heart into answering each one, telling the kids that his favorite meal is grilled chicken and rice and encouraging them to heat three healthy meals a day and to stay active every day. “My mom put a football in my hand and wanted me to throw it when I was really little,” he told the kids, “so I was an active quarterback early on.”
Tommy’s Shining Moment: Gator Bowl
Asked about his favorite moment from last season, Armstrong paused, then said the Gator Bowl win over Georgia was his favorite, not because he threw a record 99-yard touchdown pass (which he didn’t mention), but because the bowl win became “the start of this season”.
What’s the hardest part of being a quarterback? “Accepting the responsibility for everything that happens,” he said.
What’s his favorite part of college? “Besides football?” he asked with a laugh. “Meeting new friends and creating a bond with teammates.”
Best advice? “Remember that the word student always comes before athlete. You can’t take a day off. School always comes first and football second. Stay healthy. Be active. Work hard. And enjoy it while it lasts. If you can do all of that, you can achieve what you believe.”
Quarterback Praises Jackson, Mitchell
Heading down Memorial Stadium’s elevator as Armstrong headed to class Tuesday, I asked my own question: Who’s been the biggest surprise on the defense this spring? “Charles Jackson,” Tommy answered immediately. “He’s really pushed himself and stepped up big in the nickel position. So has Josh Mitchell.”
Fortunately, we interviewed Jackson earlier, so he’ll be featured before Saturday’s opening kickoff at 2 p.m.
And stay tuned.
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