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Jafar Armstrong keeps spirits high despite missing first half of season

| Friday, November 8, 2019

Jafar Armstrong has had to wait his turn. Last season, he received double-digit carries in each of the first three games, but as Dexter Williams took a firm grip on the starter role his utilization dwindled. Still, he proved a capable backup to Williams, averaging over five yards per carry in four of the team’s final six games in limited action.

With Williams graduated and a full offseason as the starter, Armstrong looked primed for a big redshirt sophomore season. On just his second carry of the season, Armstrong injured his groin, an injury that kept him sidelined until USC. Armstrong said he remained driven while he was out.

“I was pretty bummed out but I knew Tony and the rest of the guys were going to hold it down. I’m back now, I feel like the response and how you react to being out is the most important part, making sure you’re not down,” Armstrong said. “When you come back you have to know what time it is. I’ve had a little slow start, maybe haven’t had the game I wanted to have yet, but we’re winning games and I’m just happy to be back with my friends.”

It has been a slow start for Jafar on paper, with 23 carries for 36 yards and a fumble against Virginia Tech. As Armstrong seeks to get back up to speed, he will need to do it without injured offensive line stalwarts senior Tommy Kraemer and junior captain Robert Hainsey. Armstrong said losing those players is not ideal, but he has confidence in graduate student Trevor Ruhland and junior Josh Lugg to fill in.

“It’s definitely a bummer. Tommy’s been three or four-year starter, Rob had not missed a game and he’s a captain. Having guys like that out is definitely a bummer but we have really good guys who are ready to step in,” Armstrong said. “We have that next man up mentality at Notre Dame. We always know at any given time someone can go down in the game of football, you always have to be ready. I think Josh and Trevor will be ready to go and step in for them in a big way.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish junior running back Jafar Armstrong turns up field in last Saturday’s 21-20 win over Virginia Tech at Notre Dame Stadium. 

Even without Kreamer and Hainsey, the Irish pulled out a massive win against Virginia Tech highlighted by a two-minute drill that featured two Jafar Armstrong catches and a carry as the drive picked up momentum in Irish territory. Armstrong believed that win showed the belief the Irish have in themselves, and what a special bond they have with their teammates.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a win like that to be honest. Most teams I’ve been on if you have everything like that going wrong for you, with that fumble I had, you’re not winning that game. Nine times out of 10 you’re going to lose that game,” Amrstrong said. “It shows the camaraderie and the brotherhood we have. The fact that even after everything that happened in that game no one had their head down, and you still had the chance with two minutes left to make a play. We had guys making big third down conversions. Chase had a huge fourth and ten conversion, it just showed the confidence we have in ourselves and our teammates. It shows the brotherhood we built and the trust we have.”

With the Virginia Tech win a big confidence boost for the remainder of the season, Armstrong said his goal for the rest of the way is to keep having fun and winning games with his teammates.

“Have fun. Enjoy the time we have with our brothers,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys we have in this room who aren’t going to be here next year. There’s a lot of captains, there’s a lot of seniors on this team. It’s my third year here, guys were sophomores when I first got here and I have grinded it out with a lot of these seniors. I was here for the rebuilding phase after the 4-8 season. I have seen these guys grow up and become really good players and leaders for this program. I just want to have fun with these guys while I can.”

Armstrong experienced a ton in his time at Notre Dame, having joined the team on the heels of a 4-8 season then taking a trip to the College Football Playoff. Despite all the wins the Irish have picked up in his time at Notre Dame, Armstrong hopes to take some intangible things with him in addition to on field achievement.

“I hope to remember whatever adversity comes your way, whenever something wrong is going in life, I’ll look back at this season and show that sometimes things aren’t going to go right. Sometimes life is going to keep knocking you down,” Armstrong said. “Next year or two years from now when I look back at this I’m going to think about being resilient and never giving up and keeping going. No matter what happens you have to keep that same smile on your face because life’s going to have problems but you have to learn to comeback from those problems. That’s the key to living life.”

The team’s chances at the College Football Playoff may be down to zero, and some may look down on the current state of Notre Dame football. Despite this, Armstrong prefers to focus on the bonds he has with his friends, and how lucky he believes he is to put on the blue and gold this season after being injured.

“I feel like there’s nothing better than playing for Notre Dame,” he said. “Being back playing college football, I’m living the dream.”

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