Justin Armour once faced high school football defenders who hungered to inflict pain on the big star from Manitou Springs High. Later, he endured the terror of invading NFL defensive backfields as a receiver.
Big challenges, for sure.
Big challenges that toughened him for the trials and thrills of middle age.
Armour turned 45 last month, which means he’s embarking on great adventure.
He stands 6-foot-4, but he looks up at his 6-5 son, Joah, a high school freshman.
He cheers in the stands for his daughter, Avah, a junior high basketball star.
And he marvels at his toddler daughter, Gia. She’s slightly past her first birthday. She already weighs 30 pounds.
“A tank,” Armour says, laughing in admiration as he thinks of his baby girl. “She’s going to take over the world.”
Thomas Wolfe, the magnificent and troubled American novelist, once wrote “You can’t go home again.” Armour defies Wolfe, daily. He’s returned to Manitou Springs with his wife and children after a happy tour of America and Mexico. He wanted his family to savor the relaxed spirit of a small mountain town on the edge of Colorado Springs. He’s opened a restaurant. He’s here to stay.
And he’s back at his alma mater as the girls' basketball coach.
“It’s really fun,” Armour says. “I’m really enjoying it. I look forward to every practice. We have a great group of girls.”
He carried the Mustangs to the 1990 state title in football as a double-threat quarterback leading the program’s complicated and antique single-wing attack.
While playing on the same court where he now coaches, he collected 1,745 points and 865 rebounds, both still school records. As a freshman and sophomore, he competed in basketball and football at Stanford before concentrating on football.
He played four seasons in the NFL, including the 1998 season with the Broncos.
He was an expert at playing the games, especially in high school. He’s still crafting his coaching expertise.
As a player, he didn’t mind if a coach yelled at him. He calmly listened and tried to correct mistakes.
As a coach, he seldom raises his voice, and the increased volume is almost always employed in praise. Armour learned this secret from Bill Walsh at Stanford. Walsh, a football genius who led the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles, followed a simple rule:
Shout when praising, and use a near-whisper when criticizing.
Armour seeks to follow Walsh’s example. On Friday, Manitou suffered a blowout loss to rival St. Mary’s, but even in the late minutes Armour remained upbeat, yelling encouragement and supportively slapping the hands of his players.
Maren Mildestvedt is Manitou’s star.
“I feel like he’s a really smart coach,” Mildestvedt says. “We understand when he’s really upset with us, but he’s not yelling. Some of my coaches I’ve played for have been super aggressive. He’s really making us understand if we did something wrong, but in a really nice way. I love it.”
Armour served as coach of Manitou’s football team for two (2010-2011) frustrating seasons. When he resigned, he had no plans to return to high school sports.
But after coaching his older daughter’s teams for five seasons, he realized he wanted to return the gym where he was once a star. Basketball has long been his favorite sport, and he wanted to reveal its secrets to Manitou players.
He plans to remain at Manitou until Avah graduates. That would mean a five-year-plus run.
“At least,” he said.
The current edition of the Mustangs is depleted by graduation. Led by Shelby Megyeri, Manitou rolled to a 66-14 record and a trip to the 3A title game from 2013-2016. The current Mustangs are 6-6.
“There’s a big void now,” Armour says. “Most of the girls that we have playing haven’t played a lick of basketball, even though they’re seniors. It’s hard to put value on basketball IQ. It’s like farming. You just have to do it for a while to understand how to move without the ball and how to support your teammates who are on fire.”
Armour understands that he’s learning even as he’s teaching. He played the game, he says, at “100 miles per hour.” As a teen with a full head of hair, he attacked Manitou’s opponents with relentless passion and focus.
Now, as a middle-age dad with thinning hair, he seeks to help his Mustangs tap into that same raging fire.