Armstrong boys follow in father’s paw prints

Photo: Terry J. Wood

For brothers Jack and Bruce Armstrong, Friday nights in the fall have always meant one thing, Bulldog football. Their parents Spencer and Kristin Armstrong practically weaned the young men on the sport.

“They brought us to all the games from the time we were little,” said Jack Armstrong, a 5-10, 255-pound starting senior center for the Bulldogs. “It was fun to watch those guys play, and it’s great to be one of the guys out on the field now.”

Bruce Armstrong, a sophomore receiver for the Bulldogs, said Bulldog football has always been a part of their lives and that his dad has become a role model for him.

“I’m trying to be as good as he was when he played for Fayetteville,” Bruce said. “I’m trying to meet the expectation that people would expect.”

Spencer Armstrong has had an abiding interest in Fayetteville’s football program since he started three years as a running back for Alan Fahring’s Bulldogs 1982-84. Despite his 5-6, 170-pound high school stature, Spencer earned all-conference and all-state honors for his gridiron exploits.

Fayetteville Bulldogs (2-0) vs. Muskogee (Okla.) Roughers (0-2)

Date: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Roughers Stadium, Muskogee, Okla.
TV: Cox 217, U-verse99

“I really take a lot of pride in them being a part of the program at Fayetteville High and also at Woodland [Junior High],” Spencer Armstrong said. “It’s great that Jack has broken into the starting lineup, and that last season he was able to contribute so much to that state championship as a deep snapper. I’m really proud of what he’s accomplishing. He’s put a lot of work into it.”

Fayetteville head coach Daryl Patton echoes that sentiment, appreciating the job Jack did in stabilizing the long snapping position during Fayetteville’s run through the playoffs last season.

“Jack was our deep snapper for us last year and did a great job.” Patton said. “He’s battled some knee injuries, but is healthy now and is doing a nice job. He’s just a tough kid, very hard-nosed and intelligent. He’s a team leader. He comes to work everyday and does his best. He’s not the fastest or the strongest, but he’s always going to be in position, and he’s not going to back down.”

Jack said his transition into the starting lineup has been a challenge, but he is becoming more and more comfortable.

“It’s a big step up,” Jack said. “We lost all five starters from last year on the offensive line. I think we are filling their shoes pretty well, but we still have a lot to learn, and we still can improve a lot. We work hard together, and we’re trying to do more together outside of practice, making the offensive line more of a brotherhood.”

Jack said he appreciates his dad’s off-the-field support even though he is playing a very different position.

“He played running back and I’m a lineman so what he did on the field and what I do are really different, but he gives me a lot of good encouragement,” Jack said. “When we do something good, you can tell he’s proud and when we do something bad he gives us something we can work on.”

While Spencer remains involved in the program through the booster club, he’s not the type of father who draws attention to him in the stands.

“No, he’s pretty laid back in the stands,” Jack said. “He just likes to come and watch the games and support the whole team and us.”

Bruce said he appreciates his dad’s football guidance.

“He’s not a dad that’s out there making us do a lot of reps and pushing us,” Bruce said. “He just gives some advice and helps us out.”

Bruce is slight of build at 5-4, 130 pounds, but his athletic ability has already made him a contributor with a 23-yard reception last week against the Jefferson City (Mo.) Jays.

“Bruce is not real big,” Patton said. “He’s a little bitty guy, but he can really run. Has great speed. He’s very elusive and has great hands. He’s just a playmaker, and he’s tough as nails. He’s a sophomore, and to be his size and figure in on the varsity level, tells you all you need to know about him.”

Spencer said Bruce’s size is a concern, just like it was for him back in the 1980s, but that he has passed on some tips to his son on how to protect himself on the field.

“I’ve showed him some things to help him not have to take a solid hit,” Spencer said. “Just how to slide away to the side and protect himself. You never want to take a hit full on.”

Playing high school ball has been tougher than Bruce expected, but he’s enjoying every bit of it.

“It’s been fun playing on the high school level, but it’s also been a challenge,” Bruce said. “There is a huge size difference going from junior high to high school, but that’s just made me work harder and try to run a little faster and keep my distance from the big guys.”

With three years difference in their births, this is the first season that Jack and Bruce have played on the same team. Their brotherly dynamic is bit different now that they are teammates.

“He’s still my little brother,” Jack said. “I’ll mess with him a little on the sidelines, but when he’s on the field he’s a teammate. We take the game seriously in practice and games, but at home, we can mess around more.”

Going through the sweat and strain of preseason practice and the stress of game-week preparation has brought their relationship into a different light.

“I’m beginning to see different sides of my brother and some of the older guys on the team that I know through him,” Bruce said. “They were always friendly to me, but now I see them as competitors and teammates. It’s just seeing a different side to them.”

Both young men are excited about Friday’s road trip to Muskogee, Okla., to face the Roughers at Roughers Stadium.

“I’m excited,” Bruce said. “We went down to Bryant for a scrimmage, but I didn’t get to play because I was recovering from a broken arm. So, I’m excited. It’s always fun to go to a new environment and atmosphere to play.”

Jack said playing on the road makes him focus even more.

“Coach Patton wants us to play every game like it’s the state championship game, but our preparation for games home or away are the same,” Jack said. “I know for me, though, playing on the road makes me want to play even harder to prove to ourselves and other people that we can be successful no matter where we play.”