SHELBY — Brennan Armstrong is staying busy — at least as busy as a Division I college quarterback can stay during an age of social distancing.
The Shelby graduate works out in a makeshift garage gym belonging to a friend of his younger brother, Camden, a sophomore at Shelby. He goes for bike rides around his hometown, and he throws passes to former teammates at the practice field beside the high school.
Armstrong, who led Shelby to the Division IV state semifinals in the fall of 2017 before graduating early to enroll at Virginia, is projected as the Cavaliers’ starting signal-caller next fall. He will take over for Bryce Perkins, who led Virginia to a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and its first-ever Orange Bowl appearance last year.
A redshirt-sophomore, Armstrong intended to spend the spring immersing himself in the offense and building chemistry with his receiving corps. With spring practice canceled and his teammates scattered across the country as the coronavirus pandemic rages, Armstrong is making the best of an unprecedented situation.
“For me it’s all about setting a routine,” Armstrong said in a videoconference from his home late last week. “We had a routine (on campus) and now we’re here and I have to set a routine.
“It’s me personally setting my routine and staying as safe as I can.”
That routine includes weightlifting every morning, which has become a logistical challenge after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered all gyms and fitness centers closed to limit the spread of COVID-19. The mandate is part of a broader effort to restrict gatherings of more than 10 people.
“I’m very lucky. I have a little brother … and his friend has a big garage and he has a gym. He has a squat rack and a bench rack, all that stuff,” Armstrong said. “We go out there every morning at 8 o’clock and get a lift in. That’s been very convenient for us.”
He communicates with his teammates and coaches via videoconference. He studies film online. When it’s time to get out and throw the ball, he recruits the services of longtime friend and classmate Carter Brooks, Shelby’s career receiving leader and a tight end at Division II Ashland University.
“He’s obviously gotten bigger and stronger, but I think the biggest difference between Brennan now and Brennan in high school is his mental approach,” Brooks said. “Seeing how he prepares mentally, that’s where he has grown the most.”
Armstrong’s preparation has always been ahead of the curve, former coach Erik Will said.
“The reason why Brennan, even as a freshman in high school, gave himself an opportunity to play is the same thing you’re seeing now,” said Will, who stepped down after the 2018 season. “In four years, he never missed a workout and never missed a practice. If anybody had an opportunity to take five extra minutes to have his shoulder looked at or his hand wrapped in the training room, it was him.
“He’s that way in college as well. He doesn’t miss his classes. He’s always at his study tables and he’s always early to every single workout.”
A teacher at Shelby High School, Will arrived at the building early one day last week to get some work done. He was greeted by Armstrong, although Will didn’t recognize him initially.
“I’m pulling in first thing in the morning to come get some work and I see this muddy guy walking up from our practice field and there’s nobody else around,” Will said. “He’s covered in sweat and mud and we’re talking and he tells me he’s finding something that puts him in an uncomfortable situation both physically and mentally to get him ready to go.”
Of course, spring practice with his teammates certainly would have helped Armstrong prepare for the upcoming season. The Cavaliers are scheduled to open the season at Georgia on Sept. 7.
“Spring practice has huge benefits for player development, especially when you have a new quarterback,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said in an earlier video conference. “However, to say that you can’t get a team ready without that just isn’t true. It’s more challenging, it’s more difficult, it will take more work and more innovation, but when you measure that against the circumstances we’re in, it really doesn’t seem that important, quite frankly, in relation to the broader perspective.”
Like every other college program in the nation, Virginia is in a holding pattern. There’s no guarantee the 2020 season will start on time — or at all — and all the unknowns can be tough on team morale.
“I’m talking to as many people as I can. I want them to know everybody is working, I’m working and I hope you are,” Armstrong said. “Keep rolling and not get down on the situation.”
In the meantime, Armstrong will enjoy the extended stay in his hometown with his family. His mother, Heather, works at OSU-Mansfield and has been teleworking since Ohio’s stay-at-home order went into effect earlier in the month. His father, Brent, works for ArcelorMittel.
With plenty of spare time and nowhere to go, the family has spent a lot of time preparing meals together. Armstrong’s mother has taken over as his de facto nutritionist.
“She’s been creative. It’s all been switched up every night and that’s all we’ve been doing is cooking,” Armstrong said. “She’s been doing a good job … so it’s not been repetitive.”
What else are the Armstrongs doing to stay entertained?
“At night, when we have some free time, we play cards like euchre,” Armstrong said. “Just little things like that that I probably wouldn’t be doing when I'm at school.
“It’s very different, but I’m adjusting.”