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Notre Dame’s Jafar Armstrong takes promising 1st step in his transition to starting running back

Jafar Armstrong knew he was in line for his first college start a little more than a week before the Michigan game.

As part of his preparation, the running back asked several of his teammates about their experiences starting for the first time at Notre Dame.

He then went out and created some memories of his own, including two rushing touchdowns in Saturday’s 24-17 victory against Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium.

“Every workout, every game I’ve ever played was to get to this moment,” Armstrong said after the game. “To be out there, playing against Michigan, playing against Coach (Jim) Harbaugh, a Hall of Fame coach, a great team, a historic team, two historic teams, it’s a dream come true.

“There’s nothing like it. I came in just to do my part. If scoring two touchdowns is doing my part, I’m happy for that.”

The 6-foot-1, 218-pound redshirt freshman is a converted wide receiver. He got an extended look at running back in the spring and looked right at home at the position against the Wolverines.

Armstrong had 35 yards on 15 rushes as part of a rotation that also included Tony Jones Jr. (45 yards on nine carries) and Avery Davis (-3 yards on two carries). Quarterback Brandon Wimbush led the Irish with 59 rushing yards on 19 attempts.

Armstrong added two catches for 11 yards and returned one kick for 20 yards.

“We asked a lot for a first-time starter,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “All that versatility in itself is quite a load, and he handled it very well with a great demeanor. He wasn’t overwhelmed with the stage, nor with the assignment that we gave him.

“It’s going to be awhile before he really gets all the nuances, but he’s an elite football player. He’s just really raw. He runs high, but he can catch it, and he’s physical, and he’s game. He’ll go as long and as hard as he can, and you love that about players that don’t get tired.”

That motor was on display at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, Kan., according to his prep coach, Jon Holmes. Armstrong set a Kansas record with 45 touchdown receptions as a high-schooler.

“There were days when we would get done practicing and him and his dad would come out to the field and work on running routes,” Holmes said. “Or he’d grab the quarterback and some other receivers and they would go and work on more routes. Or if there was one play that just didn’t look right in practice, they would come out after practice and run the route combination just to make sure it was right.

“That’s the way he was. If something wasn’t right, he would tell you. And there are not a lot of high school guys who are like that. He wanted everyone to be perfect, and worked hard at it.”

That approach has continued at Notre Dame.

“He does not allow himself to come out there flat to a practice,” running backs coach Autry Denson said. “It doesn’t matter if the sun is out or if it’s overcast. Jafar has an expectation for himself, and he will not allow himself not to perform or to exceed it.”

Armstrong is working on lowering his pad level as he continues to make the transition from receiver. He said he “definitely” feels like a running back.

“Wherever coach puts me,” Armstrong said, “I try to make plays.”

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