Armstrong “Superman” for UW

first_imgMissing spring practice recovering from a shoulder surgery before being injured in the second practice of fall camp — causing him to miss the subsequent 15 days with a mild leg injury — redshirt senior linebacker Ethan Armstrong could not catch a break.But following an impressive performance against Arizona State last weekend including 11 tackles — a Wisconsin football team-high — it appears the dynamic defenseman has not missed a step.For first-year defensive coordinator and linebackers coach David Aranda, Armstrong’s return to the field has been fuel to the 3-4 defensive scheme the Badgers debuted this season, providing both strength and adaptability to the defensive unit.“I think he is someone we want to be able to build around,” Aranda said. “I think he has a very strong skill set and unique abilities that we can use to attack people.”Chief among these strengths has been Armstrong’s ability to transition through positions without hesitation. Finding success in the opening games of the season as an outside linebacker, including a fumble recovery against Massachusetts, Armstrong moved inside alongside standout redshirt senior linebacker Chris Borland to take on the Sun Devils.“It is definitely a fun scheme to play. It’s a scheme where players get to have a lot of freedom … there is a lot of movement and different things you can do so it was fun … a lot of our guys just embraced it [right away],” Armstrong said.Spending much of his time away from the field this spring locked in the film room learning every aspect of the 3-4 scheme, Armstrong found it easy to buy into his new coach’s strategy.And for his fellow teammates, including redshirt senior linebacker Brendan Kelly, this ability to step up and take on multiple roles on the field is what makes Armstrong such a valuable player.“They’ve got him playing all over the place,” Kelly said. “He can play defensive end he can play outside linebacker, he can play Mac [linebacker], he can play Rover [linebacker], he’s even played safety a few times. There is a lot to say for that.”Armstrong’s run-in with injury this past offseason was not the first time the Badger was forced to the sidelines. After earning two starts his sophomore season and racking up 29 tackles, Armstrong missed the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game and sat out UW’s meeting with Oregon at the Rose Bowl with a hip injury sustained during the 2011 regular season finale against Penn State.Working hard in the weight room to recover, No. 36 appeared stronger than ever when he returned to the field. The walk-on freshman was awarded a scholarship during fall camp last season and went on to have a breakout junior year. Starting all 14 games, Armstrong quickly became a leader of the defensive unit, recording 93 tackles, the third most for UW, and five passes denied.“It was just doing a lot of little things to try and work my way up but it was kind of baby steps,” Armstrong said. “I had to be patient and it wasn’t always easy. It definitely wasn’t fun, but in the end it was definitely worth it.”Now in his final year in cardinal red and white, Armstrong serves as a key leader among his fellow defensemen and teammates. While he would describe himself as leading by example and offering help to all the freshman players, his coaches and teammates had much more to say.“When I think of Ethan I think of an inspirational leader,” Aranda said. “He is vocal and everybody respects Ethan. Everybody knows Ethan is aware, and Ethan pours his heart and soul out to everything we do.”While Aranda, head coach Gary Andersen and most of the Wisconsin coaching staff were not around when Armstrong made the decision to join the Badger squad more than four years ago, Kelly remembers some of the first times they met, taking note of Armstrong’s reliability early on.“He is always going to do his job and always is going to be there for you both on and off the field,” Kelly said. “Guys like that are really valuable, whether it’s a friend or a teammate — guys that you can just count on — that is one of the biggest things I noticed about Ethan.”And though his performance on the field alone speaks to the quality of a player Armstrong is, there is one distinctive characteristic about his game that his teammates see as truly setting him apart.“Off the field he is literally the nicest guy you will meet … but he is an animal on the field,” Kelly said. “He flips this switch on game day when he is the meanest, baddest, most vicious player you have ever seen. Most guys are a little different, they are pumped up, but [Armstrong] is on a different level. It’s like he puts on his pads and turns into Superman.”last_img read more