No, the season didn’t go as well for Kansas football as Dorance Armstrong Jr. would’ve hoped. However, the sophomore defensive end entered the winter offseason encouraged.
“Last year my numbers weren’t even close to what they were this year,” Armstrong said following the Jayhawks’ season-ending loss at Kansas State, “and me getting injured in (preseason) camp, to come back and put up those numbers, it kind of shocked me. But I’m very proud of how I played, how our defense played and all of that.”
Now KU’s standout defensive playmaker can realize even further gratification. The Associated Press on Tuesday named Armstrong to its All-Big 12 first team.
The numbers the 6-foot-4, 246-pound lineman referenced got his name associated with other conference stars, such as offensive player of the year Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma) and fellow first-teamers D’Onta Foreman (Texas) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma). Armstrong led the Big 12 with 20.0 tackles for loss and ranked second in sacks, with 10.0 — trailing only defensive player of the year Jordan Willis (11.5), of Kansas State.
As the 2016 season neared it completion and Armstrong kept terrorizing opposing offensive lines, those working at Anderson Family Football Complex began wondering whether the young end might nab the award for top defender himself.
“Statistically, and really just as you watch his play throughout the year, I don’t know how you leave him out of that talk,” Kansas head coach David Beaty said late in the season, asked about Armstrong making a run at the Big 12’s defensive player of the year award. “He’s easily one of the best players in this conference, if not the best player on the defensive side. Whether it comes to what team you’re playin’ on or not, that’s not for me to say. But I know this: I’ve seen some really, really good football teams — good football players on great teams. And I’ve also seen some really good ones on teams that weren’t so good. It comes down to production. We’re still playin’ against the same guys they’re playin’ against.”
Though the award ultimately went to senior Wildcats end Willis, Armstrong all but cemented his first-team spot during KU’s upset victory over Texas, in the Jayhawks’ home finale. Not only did he record three tackles for loss, two sacks and force a fumble, Armstrong racked up 11 tackles, a rare feat for a lineman.
“I feel like it all came from how much pressure the coach put on the D-line,” Armstrong said of his best overall performance. “They talked about how good Texas O-line was and the game was gonna be mainly on us. As a group, all week, we have to go out there and grind all week.”
Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen reached a point this season where he expected Armstrong to produce as one of the league’s elite defensive players on a weekly basis.
“Dorance is a legitimate, pass-rushing, every-down defensive end,” Bowen said. “He has a great skill set. You don’t have to take him out and hide him in run situations. He can anchor in. He’s what everyone wants and he’s playing at a high level.”
While Armstrong proved to be the only representative form KU (2-10 overall, 1-8 Big 12) on the AP’s first team, two other Jayhawks earned all-league distinctions, as well. The interior strength of sophomore defensive tackle Daniel Wise and the range and play-making in the secondary from senior safety Fish Smithson landed both Jayhawks second-team spots.
From constantly applying pressure on offensive linemen, to producing 10.0 tackles for loss in a season during which he made 38 total stops and even blocked two kicks, Wise, who also produced three sacks, became a lineman offensive coordinators and quarterbacks couldn’t ignore. The 6-3, 285-pound tackle from Lewisville, Texas, even returned a fumble and broke up a pass while doing the dirty work at the line of scrimmage.
As a team captain operating at the back end of the KU defense, Smithson did a bit of everything. Same as the year before, the safety led the Jayhawks in tackles, this time coming through with 93 stops — 70 solos. The 5-11, 190-pound team leader from Baltimore took away a team-best four interceptions in his final season and broke up seven other pass attempts. On the year, Smithson forced two fumbles, recovered one, made 2.5 tackles for loss and had a sack, as well.
While Armstrong made the All-Big 12 first team released Tuesday by ESPN.com, too, he wasn’t a lone Jayhawk on that list. Wise played well enough to join his fellow sophomore lineman as a first-team selection.
Quarterback — Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma, 6-1, 210, Jr., Austin, Texas.
Running backs — D'Onta Foreman, Texas, 6-1, 249, Jr., Texas City, Texas; Joe Mixon, Oklahoma, 6-1, 226, So., Oakley, California.
Tackles — Connor Williams, Texas, 6-6, 288, So., Coppell, Texas; Orlando Brown, Oklahoma, 6-8, 340, So., Duluth, Georgia.
Guards — Terrale Johnson, Kansas State, 6-1, 312, Sr., Manhattan, Kansas; Kyle Bosch, West Virginia, 6-5, 310, Jr., St. Charles, Illinois.
Center — Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia, 6-4, 296, Sr., Cleveland.
Receivers — Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma, 6-0, 175, Sr., Cameron, Texas; James Washington, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 205, Jr., Stamford, Texas.
Tight end — Mark Andrews, Oklahoma, 6-5, 250, So., Scottsdale, Arizona.
All-purpose player — Shelton Gibson, West Virginia, 5-11, 195, Jr., Cleveland.
Kicker — Cole Netten, Iowa State, 6-1, 210, Sr., Ankeny, Iowa.
Ends — Jordan Willis, Kansas State, 6-5, 258, Sr., Kansas City; Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas, 6-5, 246, So., Houston.
Tackles — Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State, 6-3, 310, Jr., San Antonio; Will Geary, Kansas State, 6-0, 298, Jr., Topeka, Kansas.
Linebackers — Travin Howard, TCU, 6-1, 210, Jr., Longview, Texas; Elijah Lee, Kansas State, 6-3, 228, Jr., Blue Springs, Missouri; Jordan Evans, Oklahoma, 6-2, 235, Sr., Norman, Oklahoma.
Cornerbacks — Rasul Douglas, West Virginia, 6-2, 208, Sr., East Orange, New Jersey; Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma, 6-0, 192, Jr., Klein, Texas.
Safeties — Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 200, Sr., Cibolo, Texas; Orion Stewart, Baylor, 6-2, 205, Sr., Waco, Texas.
Punter — Michael Dickson, Texas, 6-2, 209, So., Sydney, Australia.
Quarterback — Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech, 6-3, 230, Jr., Whitehouse, Texas.
Running backs — Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, 5-10, 235, Jr., Pflugerville, Texas; Justin Crawford, West Virginia, 6-1, 190, Jr., Columbus, Georgia.
Tackles — Dalton Risner, Kansas State; 6-5, 300, So., Wiggins, Colorado; Victor Salako, Oklahoma, 6-6, 335, Sr., Huntsville, Alabama.
Guards — Ben Powers, Oklahoma, 6-4, 315, So., Wichita, Kansas; Adam Pankey, West Virginia, 6-5, 316, Sr., Hamilton, Ohio.
Center —Kyle Fuller, Baylor, 6-5, 315, Sr., Wylie, Texas.
Receivers — Jonathan Giles, Texas Tech, 5-11, 185, So., Missouri City, Texas; KD Cannon, Baylor, 6-0, 180, Jr., Mount Pleasant, Texas.
Tight end — Blake Jarwin, Oklahoma State, 6-5, 248, Sr., Tuttle, Oklahoma.
All-purpose player — Joe Mixon, 6-1, 226, So., Oakley, California.
Kicker — Ben Grogan, Oklahoma St., 6-1, 190, Sr., Arlington, Texas.
Ends — Josh Carraway, TCU, 6-4, 250, Sr., Flower Mound, Texas; Breckyn Hager, Texas, 6-3, 227, So., Austin, Texas.
Tackles — Daniel Wise, Kansas, 6-3, 285, So., Lewisville, Texas; Aaron Curry, TCU, 6-2, 270, Sr., Keller, Texas.
Linebackers — Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma, 6-2, 245, Jr., Houston; Devante Averette, Oklahoma St., 6-11, 230, Sr., Detroit; Malik Jefferson, Texas, 6-3, 238, So., Mesquite, Texas.
Cornerbacks — Ranthony Texada, TCU, 5-10, 170, Jr., Frisco, Texas; D.J. Reed, Kansas State, 5-9, 188, So., Bakersfield, California.
Safeties — Denzel Johnson, TCU, 6-2, 210, Sr., Gainesville, Texas; Fish Smithson, Kansas, 5-11, 190, Sr., Baltimore.
Punter — Zach Sinor, Oklahoma State, 5-10, 215, So., Castroville, Texas.
Coach of the year — Bob Stoops, Oklahoma.
Offensive player of the year — Dede Westbrook, WR, Sr., Oklahoma.
Defensive player of the year — Jordan Willis, DE, Sr., Kansas State.
Newcomer of the year — Justice Hill, RB, Fr., Oklahoma State.