Millville High School’s athletic teams are called the Thunderbolts. In 2013 and 2014, the South Jersey school’s football team had “speed” and “lightning” in the backfield.
Rob Ennis Jr. was the speed. The 5-foot-10-inch tailback averaged nine yards per carry as a junior and scored 14 touchdowns before committing to Purdue University, a Power Five school in the Big Ten Conference, in the offseason before his senior year. He’s now a running back at Division III Widener University.
Ryquell Armstead was the lightning, gaining yards with strength and power. Armstead, listed at 185 pounds in high school, transitioned from playing fullback to getting more carries at running back during his junior season and verbally committed to Temple shortly after Ennis chose Purdue.
The junior running back powered his way to 151 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries against Army West Point on Oct. 21. He had his first multi-touchdown game this season. At the end of his 21-yard touchdown run with one minute, 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Armstead bowled over Army sophomore defensive back Cameron Jones near the pylon.
“Putting his shoulders down and running the defender over, that’s ‘Quell,” said Ennis, who has known Armstead since the two were about 6 or 7 years old. “It’s not different for me to see. It’s probably different for everybody else to see, but not me.”
On Feb. 4, 2015, National Signing Day for Armstead’s high school class, ESPN SportsCenter and college football anchor Kevin Negandhi, a 1998 communications alumnus, tweeted Temple had landed “the biggest recruit in school history.”
Negandhi’s tweet referred to a running back, but not Armstead. Former coach Matt Rhule had convinced four-star back T.J. Simmons, Rivals.com’s 17th-best running back, to come to Temple. By November, Simmons announced his intentions to transfer. He only played in one game.
Armstead wasn’t as highly touted as Simmons. He entered as the seventh running back on the depth chart and finished preseason camp second, he said.
He played in 11 games as a freshman and scored two touchdowns. Last season, he had 919 yards rushing, had five multi-touchdown games and led the Owls with 14 rushing touchdowns.
Armstead has 1,564 career rushing yards to rank 12th in program history since 1971.
“It’s all about confidence once you get there,” Armstead said. “Them stars and everything doesn’t mean anything to me between the lines. I always say I was under-recruited. I found my home fast.”
Former Millville coach Jason Durham noticed Armstead’s maturation during his junior and senior years. He fought through injuries to play and pulled teammates aside to give them advice.
He is doing the same this year for Temple. A nagging toe injury on his left foot kept him from practicing during the week leading up to the Owls’ game against Connecticut on Oct. 14. Armstead had nine carries for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Armstead felt the healthiest he had all season during the game against Army, he said.
“He definitely looked like himself,” said redshirt-junior offensive lineman Gordon Thomas, whose locker in Edberg-Olson Hall is next to Armstead’s stall. “I didn’t realize until I watched the tape about a day or two later just how well he looked to his previous self the past season.”
Coach Geoff Collins and Armstead, who he often calls “Rock,” have developed trust in their first season together. Before his second touchdown against Army, Armstead told Collins, “Give me the ball, let me run power and I’m going to get the first down and probably score,” Collins said.
Armstead has a quiet leadership style, Collins said, something the Owls’ first-year coach learned can be effective during his first year as the University of Florida’s defensive coordinator in 2015.
He’d been challenging Marcus Maye, now a rookie safety for the New York Jets, to be vocal until Maye told Collins to watch him during a practice. Maye explained to teammates how plays developed after every rep, Collins said.
Armstead is similar, Collins said. While sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley and junior safety Delvon Randall “run around and get everybody going,” Collins said, Armstead “doesn’t say a lot” and lets his work ethic set an example.
“There’s weeks that he could barely walk, but he cares so much about his teammates and what we’re doing as a team that he was willing to lay it all on the line to go out there and perform and help them to play very well,” Collins said.