LAWRENCE, Kan. -- You might never know where the next Jadeveon Clowney or Myles Garrett lurks in college.
But let’s say you had a good idea of the right place to look. It wouldn’t be Kansas.
David Beaty would like a word, please, about Dorance Armstrong Jr. The Jayhawks’ rising junior defensive end led the Big 12 in tackles for loss last season, with 20, and registered 10 sacks, the most at Kansas since 2008, despite a knee injury that limited him in September.
“Dorance is a stud. The fact that he didn’t make All-American last year was shocking to me,” said Beaty, the third-year KU coach. “He got robbed. [He] is unbelievable. He’s a freak. He is Myles Garrett, and Myles is a freak. This guy’s a beast.”
Beatty isn’t being hyperbolic. He recruited Garrett, likely the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft, to Texas A&M in 2014. When Garrett played as a true freshman, the Aggies, according to Beaty, studied tape of Clowney, the No. 1 draft pick from a few months prior, in his first season at South Carolina and used it as a model for Garrett’s development.
Clowney and Garrett played limited roles as freshmen pass-rush specialists. Kansas did the same with Armstrong in 2015.
“We don’t get hung up on it,” Beatty said of the comparisons, “but he’s that type of player.”
Yes, KU could have used him more in a winless fall two seasons ago, but the Jayhawks' restraint contributed in a big way to Armstrong’s breakout, All-Big 12 sophomore season, Beaty and KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen believe.
Beaty said he expects Armstrong to land in the first round next year -- if he chooses to leave school early.
Armstrong came to Kansas out of Houston’s North Shore High School at 6-foot-4 and about 215 pounds. He was offered scholarships by the likes of Michigan State, Cal, Houston and Northwestern, but Armstrong visited only Kansas in January 2015 because other trips didn’t fit into his high school basketball schedule.
“I just thought [playing] basketball was the end of the world,” Armstrong said. “That’s why I’m here. I had one weekend around signing day. I came up and fell in love with the place.”
This spring, the Jayhawks are looking to build on a 2016 effort that ranked their defense as perhaps the Big 12’s most improved unit. Armstrong, who gained 10 to 15 pounds in the fall of his freshman year and is now at 250, was key to the improvement.
“Most people can’t understand that it’s hard to eat and gain weight,” Bowen said. “But for kids like him, it’s a different ballgame. It becomes almost a job. He took it very serious.
“Then when he did go in the game, we asked him to do something that he was very good at. He didn’t have to face the defeat. As we did start to use him more, he had developed that mentality that he belonged. He had confidence going into his second year that he could win in pass-rush situations. And he proved it.”
Armstrong passes all of Beaty’s tests.
“It’s really refreshing when you have a player who is that good who’s also squared away,” Beaty said. “He’s never on a list. I’ve never seen his name [for] missing a class. I don’t have to worry about Dorance in that regard. To me, he is the epitome of what we have to do at KU: Bring in guys who have the frame who can get to a certain size, and utilize their speed.”
Bowen said he encourages his defenders to pay notice to their accolades and statistics. It’s a team game, sure, but individual achievements serve to better the Jayhawks.
Armstrong said he views any recognition as a positive factor in helping him reach the NFL. This spring, he’s taking note of his coaches’ advice to lead.
“All my life, leadership has been forced on me,” Armstrong said. “Every coach I’ve been with has wanted me to be a vocal leader. But that was never me. As I grew up, I realized that had to change. Where I am now, I feel like I have to be a leader for this team.”
Surely, he has the appearance of one of the best Power 5 players nationally, who is largely unknown outside of his conference.
“You know,” Beaty said, “that just gives us something else out there to dangle in front of him.”