Nebraska starting QB has athletic pedigree, gulf coast roots

Published: Sep. 21, 2014 at 7:21 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 25, 2014 at 10:06 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Tommy Armstrong Jr.'s family knew he was going to be a phenomenal football player eventually.

His mother, Nadine, just wasn't sure that the youngest of three kids would be the starting quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

"He always had that potential of being number one," Nadine Armstrong said. "He always wanted to be on top of whatever he did."

Nadine Armstrong was a softball and basketball player at Gulfport High School, while Armstrong Jr.'s father, Tommy, was also a well-known athlete who played football for the Admirals in the 1980s. His uncle, Charles "Cook" Lewis, who is Nadine's brother, was a pitcher for Gulfport and eventually played for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Alabama State.

"I knew he had that talent as a child," Lewis said. "With me going to school and playing ball with his father, and his mother also a great athlete, I knew Tommy would be a great athlete."

He started off at Anniston Avenue Elementary School and played quarterback for their football team. After that, he went to Bayou View Elementary School and won a league championship.

After Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi gulf coast in 2005, Nadine's house was severely damaged, effectively causing Armstrong Jr. to move to Cibolo, Tex., to live with his father.

While he eventually returned to Gulfport to attend middle school, he told his mother that he would progress more as a football player if he attended Byron P. Steele High School, which is about 30 minutes from San Antonio.

"I didn't want him to go," Nadine Armstrong said. "I wanted him to stay here and play for Gulfport but he decided he wanted to go over there and get more options playing football. His dad and I were okay with that."

While Nadine was fortunate to not have lost her home, her brother was not as lucky. His home was destroyed following the devastating hurricane.

"I lost everything," Lewis said. "Thanks to the Lord, I have come a long way. God is good so I am happy. I still have memories about it but those days are over and I pray that I never have to see one of those days again."

Armstrong Jr. earned 17 football scholarship offers while playing for Cibolo Steele. Schools like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Mississippi State and Southern Miss all wanted him to join their programs. But he chose the university in Lincoln, Neb., because the Huskers were offering him a chance to play as a quarterback.

Armstrong Jr. and the 24th-ranked Huskers (3-0) are hosting the Miami Hurricanes (2-1) this Saturday. A win over Miami would give Nebraska its 400th win at Memorial Stadium, which hosted the first Huskers game Oct. 23, 1923.

The 6'1", 210-pound quarterback has exceeded 300 yards of total offense in each of his first three games this season. Despite being just a sophomore, he's only 21 yards from putting his name in the top 20 of Nebraska's career passing list.

"If anybody wants to ask him where he got that strong arm from, I can tell you where he got his strong arm from," Lewis said. "He got it from his mother because his mother taught me how to play baseball. Therefore, I'm very proud. He's gifted on both sides from his mother and his father."

Armstrong Jr.'s sisters, Daphne and Jessica, both have sons who call No. 4 "Uncle T.J." Uncle T.J. was taught how to display his manners by his mother, but an incident involving a street light, which they laugh about now, didn't please Nadine very much at the time that it happened.

"I remember when he was small," Nadine Armstrong said. "He was about 10 or 11. He asked me, 'Mom, can I get a gun?' A little pellet gun. I said, 'Yeah, I'll buy you a gun but please don't shoot anything you have no business with."

Then one of her neighbors stopped by the house and told her that Armstrong Jr. had taken target practice at a nearby street light.

"I asked him, 'Tommy, did you do that?' He said, 'Yes, ma'am, momma,'" Nadine Armstrong said. "I said, 'Give me the gun.' I took the gun and I tore it up into as many pieces as I could get it into. He said, 'I knew you were going to do that momma."

Nadine Armstrong admits that she doesn't text very much. Rather, she'll talk on the phone with her son before every game, pray with him about the upcoming game and every now and then talk about that certain scenario involving a pellet gun.

While she is able to watch her son play football thanks to technology, she says it's frustrating to not be able to see him in person.

"I look at him on television and wish I could be right where he is," Nadine Armstrong said. "Every game he ever had here, I didn't miss a game. He said, 'Mom, I know you would like to be here and it's a long way out, and I know how you feel about flying, but one day you'll see me play here."

If Nadine wanted to drive from Gulfport, Miss., to Lincoln, Neb., for one of her son's games, she'd have to make a 16-hour, one-way trip.

"I want to beat that fear of flying," Nadine Armstrong said. "I'd rather fly. You'd get there faster."

Every Saturday, in a house that's decorated on the outside by pictures that Nadine sketched and Armstrong Jr.'s sisters painted, you'll find them and uncle Cook aiming to be the gunslinger's biggest fans in the state of Mississippi.

Hopefully, sooner rather than later, they'll be alongside those 90,000+ fans in Nebraska cheering for the home team -- and the one who initiates each play.