Isaiah Armstrong, who led California with 14 interceptions during Redlands East Valley High School’s 2014 state championship season, refuses to give up football.
Yes, he’d love a shot at the National Football League.
Based on his exit from high school ⎯ where he received no real offers from significant four-year colleges ⎯ Armstrong’s hopes seemed non-existent.
“Right now,” he said, “I’m doing everything I can.”
In REV’s march to its state championship, the Wildcats had to beat a pesky Riverside Poly team. In doing so, Armstrong swiped a couple of passes in the direction of USC-bound WR Akili Smith ⎯ big plays in the 36-31 outcome.
You’d think he’d have gotten an offer.
“That’s what I thought, too,” said Armstrong, whose father, Robert, moved his family from their Redlands-based Sunset Road digs to a residence right across the street from REV in Mentone. “No one offered me.”
Too slow, he was told.
“I never thought that,” he said.
“I can’t figure it out, either,” said Armstrong, the younger brother of Josh Armstrong, also a DB who played his college ball at Sacramento State after his REV years. “I did everything I could [to get into a four-year program after high school].”
Landing at state JUCO power Riverside City College, Armstrong got a huge break when Brigham Young University recruited him to its Provo-based campus by 2016.
The short version is that Armstrong ⎯ who graded higher than most other defensive backs in BYU’s secondary ⎯ kept running into one discrepancy after another.
* Armstrong found himself behind a running back-turned-DB by the second week of the season.
* Armstrong graded out at 100 percent at his position, increasing the probability of starting.
* In one explosive week of practice, Armstrong intercepted five passes and was told he’d be No. 3 at safety for that week’s game against Illinois. Mysteriously, others played in front of him.
“Our safety [Austin Lee] pulled his hamstring that week. I thought I’d be playing.”
One final example: After intercepting a pass in a 2018 game against Massachusetts, BYU cornerbacks’ coach Jernaro Gilford pulled him out of the game.
“There wasn’t another cornerback on the team who had an interception that season,” said Armstrong.
The 2015 REV grad had one of BYU’s nine total interceptions that season.
Josh Armstrong, meanwhile, tweeted his brother, “Why’d they take you out of that [Massachusetts] game?”
Isaiah had no answer for Josh.
It may not be the complete story, of course.
BYU finished 7-6 that season, losing its Holy War game to Utah ⎯ a game that Armstrong felt he should have been playing.
“We lost both games [2016 and 2018],” he said. “If I was playing, I'm pretty sure we’d have won.”
By 2019, Armstrong was a BYU graduate with one season of eligibility remaining. By NCAA rule, graduates are allowed to transfer without sitting out a season.
At first, he thought about Nevada-Reno, but wound up at Northwestern State-Louisiana, playing limited time in the Demons’ secondary (zero interceptions, four breakups in 10 games).
Refusing to give up, though, led to Armstrong connecting with former NFL agent Tyrone Hill.
“I reached out to him on social media,” said Armstrong. “He replied back to me.”
Hill already had plenty of clients, connections with virtually every NFL team. Hill’s launched lots of charity activity, forcing to limit his clients’ NFL representation.
Armstrong, meanwhile, refuses to budge on his NFL dreams.
Workouts in Temescal Canyon. Videos sent to various NFL teams.
Some teams ⎯ the Rams, Cowboys, Dolphins and Raiders ⎯ have, so far, responded. This weekend, Armstrong says he was heading for Atlanta for a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks.
It hurt ⎯ greatly, in fact ⎯ that COVID-19 struck down rookie mini-camps this spring. Normally, there are close to 100 guys attending those sessions. The 6-foot-2 Armstrong liked his chances of showcasing his skills.
Training camps are now underway.
“Unless you were drafted,” Armstrong said, “there’s no chance of getting into [an NFL] camp.”
Hill, meanwhile, apparently has a good relationship with a Rams’ scout. Armstrong might be on their radar.