It was a warm night in late August of 2017. Cox had just launched the YurView platform nationwide. In Omaha, to kick off the live high school football broadcasts, the crew chose a heated Metro rivalry: Creighton Prep versus Omaha Westside. It turned out to be an instant classic.
The game was a big-play festival, going back and forth to the very end. With under a minute to play, Prep had the ball but trailed by three. It looked for all the world like Westside might hold on. But a skinny sophomore had one more play to make. His name is Mason Armstead.
Prep head coach Tim Johnk, then in his first season at the helm, remembers Armstead from those first days. “Talented, long, athletic kid,” Johnk said. “He was pretty quiet then.”
Armstead is still quiet. He speaks softly, but clearly. But in that, there’s an air of confidence that’s unmistakeable. His head is up, chest out, eyes locked in. He’s nothing if not steady.
Now in his third season as a starter, Armstead has been key in the success for Creighton Prep. You wouldn’t call him a big-play machine. His longest reception is 40 yards. But it’s the average per catch that stands out. In 24 varsity contests, he’s averaged more than 13 yards per reception. It’s a first down virtually every time he touches the ball.
He’s been steady in the classrooms at Prep also. And that, along with his athletic talents, has drawn the attention of some of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Harvard, Yale, Stetson, Dartmouth, and Princeton have all asked the 2020 wide receiver to play football in their colors. Midwestern schools such as South Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Youngstown State and North Dakota have come calling also.
“For some Ivy Leagues to come looking at me to come out and play football, it’s a big blessing,” Armstead said.
The 2020 class in Nebraska is dominated by wide receivers. Zavier Betts of Bellevue West and Xavier Watts of Omaha Burke are the state’s top recruits. Both have verbally committed to Power 5 schools, Nebraska and Notre Dame respectively. Armstead counts both players as his buddies.
Had a great time down in Lincoln for Junior Day. Thanks to @coachwilhite for the invite! 🌽🔴 #GBR pic.twitter.com/9QqWzthmfY
— Mason Armstead (@mason_tylerrr) February 2, 2019
“I think the wide receiver class for 2020 in Nebraska is probably one of the best there’s ever been,” Armstead said.
Armstead’s inclusion in that group is not something anyone would have expected four years ago. He’d given up on football. After breaking his arm in third grade and his foot in fifth grade, Armstead no longer wanted to play. “I was a basketball guy at the time and I had to sit out for basketball.,” he said. “So I was like, alright. I don’t want to do this. I didn’t play again.”
But the lure of the gridiron proved too strong. Johnk credits former freshman football coach and current Duchesne Academy athletic director Kevin Van Winkle with convincing Armstead to give it a try. “The rest is history, in terms of how well he’s done here,” Johnk said.
Armstead’s freshman team at Prep went 9-0. He fell in love — again — with playing the game he’d always loved watching. In his sophomore season, Armstead arrived in a prime time moment. It came on that warm August night in 2017 on YurView’s first live broadcast in Omaha.
With the Junior Jays trailing 41-38, Armstead ran a post route and beat his defender to the back of the endzone. Quarterback Sam Bonebrake fired the 23-yard pass and Armstead made the diving catch just in front of the thick, white line where the field of play ends. There were only 12.9 seconds left on the clock.
Armstead demurs when asked about the play, saying he only remembers it vaguely. He says winning is all he really wants, not personal accolade. But with one more trip to Westside on the schedule, there’s a chance for one more prime time moment in Armstead’s Prep career.
“It’s been great, I love it,” Armstead said. “And hopefully I’ll go out on top over Westside for my last year.”
Catch Mason Armstead and Creighton Prep take on Omaha Westside, Friday, September 27th, on GameTime at 7pm and streaming live on Yurview.com