For Jafar Armstrong, the decision seemed pretty simple.
“In all honesty, you’d be idiotic to not go there for free,” said Armstrong in an interview with Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson following his rapid-fire de-commitment from Missouri and decision Sunday to attend Notre Dame.
Most of Notre Dame’s recruiting is an effort to get the nation’s top prospects to recognize the opportunity that the small Midwestern Catholic school offers academically and athletically.
It certainly wasn’t lost on the 6-foot-0, 200-pound Armstrong, who will follow his Bishop Miege High School (Shawnee Mission, Kansas) teammate Colin Grunhard – a preferred walk-on offensive lineman – to Notre Dame this fall.
The Notre Dame message likely was promoted freely by Tim Grunhard, the father of Colin and a mainstay on Notre Dame’s 1988 offensive line that helped the Irish claim their last national championship.
Grunhard, who once served as Bishop Miege’s head coach, has been the Stags’ offensive line coach since 2014. Two years after winning the 4A state championship (2009), he joined Charlie Weis’ staff as offensive line coach at Kansas.
Add it all up and it’s a great story. Now, what kind of player is Notre Dame getting in Armstrong? How can he help them and where will he contribute?
The three-star prospect has battled his tail off in his quest to be a high-level wide receiver prospect.
“I’ve worked very hard to perfect my craft,” Armstrong said.
Listed as the No. 107 receiver by Scout, Armstrong is atypical. He has the strength and power of a tight end, although at 6-foot-0, his stature says otherwise. He’s a try-hard player off the line of scrimmage with a get-off that must be respected, but his pure speed is limited.
Armstrong’s calling cards are effort, strength, and a pair of clamps that generally are referred to as hands. Those are the tools with which he’ll excel if he can overcome the imperfect fit at the position. They call them 50-50 balls, but on the prep level, it was more like 80-20 for Armstrong. His ability to track the football in the air is in the highest percentile.
Armstrong effortlessly times and high-points passes. When timing and high-pointing a pass isn’t enough, he uses positioning and strength to win those battles. His knack for gathering his weight and reaching the football before the defensive back is obvious. He did it time after time after time.
As a member of the three-time 4A Kansas state champs, Armstrong was a finalist for the Otis Taylor Award -- an honor bestowed upon the top wide receiver/tight end in the Kansas City region -- as a junior. He won the award in 2016, or perhaps more accurately, wrestled it away from the competition.
Quicker than he is fast, Armstrong is a powerful runner somewhat similar to recent Irish verbal commitment Jordan Genmark Heath. He’s a load once he gathers a head of steam. Also like Genmark Heath, this is an emotionally and physically mature young man, which means he’s not going to accept mediocrity without putting up a fight.
In order to succeed on the next level, Armstrong will have to maximize his skill set against more athletic defensive backs that are going to put up a much greater fight than the prep pass defenders in Kansas.
Armstrong shows some shiftiness in traffic. He can break tackles. He’s strong. But how that translates against USC, Stanford, Michigan State and Notre Dame’s ACC competition is not a given for this appropriately-aligned three-star prospect.
Does Armstrong have the versatility to play another position? Tight end would seem to be a tough match with his lack of stature impacting his leverage as a blocker.
A move to the defensive of the football would be a significant shift for a prospect whose mindset has been geared to offense. He’d be on the shorter side as a linebacker and perhaps missing a closing step at safety.
This is a difficult prospect to project because whatever physical shortcomings there are, he maximizes his strengths to compensate on the prep level, and then filled in the rest of the gaps with hard work and determination.
At the very least, the Irish are getting a potential early special teams performer, a character player, and the glue guy determined to maximize the opportunity that awaits him at Notre Dame.
He’ll be determined to achieve much more than that.