The Clarion Area Bobcats had just gotten done putting the finishing touches on a dominating 27-7 victory over Coudersport in the District 9 Class A semifinals Saturday night at Bradford High School in extreme northern McKean County, and T.J. Armstrong was headed back to the district championship game for the second time in his varsity career.
As a freshman, Clarion won the D9 Class A crown before falling to Farrell in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals, 19-14.
"It's great to get back to that title game - it's now two times in the last three years we've been there," Armstrong said.
But Armstrong's got something else on his plate relatively rare up in District 9 territory - a recruiting process involing major Division-1 colleges. That's not to say that District 9, a PIAA geographic region with 26 total high school football programs spread over eight counties, hasn't produced collegiate prospects - they're just mostly Division-II and III types.
To date, Armstrong has received interest from programs like Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pitt, Ohio State, Purdue, Syracuse and Toledo, with GT, Wisconsin and Rutgers being the newest programs to join in courting him. Armstrong, who doesn't hold any offers at present, said the level of interest has really surprised him.
"I thought after last season when I was hurt (he missed the majority of his sophomore season with an arm injury) that it (D-1 interest) was all over for me," Armstrong said in the east end zone of Bradford's stadium. "But Coach Beers (an assistant coach from nearby Franklin Area High School in Venango County) has really helped me out and he has all the contacts. If it wasn't for him, I'd have nothing at all."
Pitt, located 80 miles southwest of Clarion, hasn't really been strongly recruiting Armstrong of late, the junior said, noting he hasn't heard that much from the Steel City camp.
"I'd love to hear from Pitt," Armstrong said. "I've been a lifelong Pitt fan."
Armstrong has been hearing a lot from Pitt's chief rival, West Virginia.
"I sent them the DVD of my first six games (of my junior year) and they really loved it," Armstrong said of the Mountaineers. "They haven't offered me yet because there is film of other linebackers they haven't yet seen, but they told me they were very impressed with what I sent them."
Family ties to WVU are also another reason Armstrong likes the Mounts.
"My sister went to WVU for a year," Armstrong said. "I guess it's kind of strange to like both Pitt and West Virginia since they are really big rivals, but I do like both schools a lot."
Armstrong has been Clarion's leader both offensively and defensively this season. He's run for nearly 1,000 yards and scored 13 touchdowns and added three receiving touchdowns out of the backfield.
But it's defensively where Armstrong has made a killing. He's up to 121 tackles, five sacks, three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one blocked punt and three blocked field goals through 12 games. Against Coudersport, Armstrong had 12 tackles, a forced fumble and a sack, in addition to 128 rushing yards and three total touchdowns scored offensively. In the District 9 title game against Port Allegany, Armstrong ran for 138 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries and caught an eight-yard pass in the loss, helping him to surpass the 1,100-yard mark in rushing for the season.
Armstrong said he prefers the defensive side of the ball.
"I primarily play inside linebacker for the team," Armstrong said. "But I did line up at the rush end position tonight and I really liked that. I felt the most comfortable at the rush end spot and that's where some schools are looking at me to play."