IRVING, Texas – It's been quite a journey for Anthony Armstrong, a Dallas-area kid who admits he's often dreamed of playing for the Cowboys.
For a guy who grew up in nearby Carrollton, played Division II football at West Texas A&M, and then had stops with the Odessa Roughnecks of the Intense Football League and the Dallas Desperados of the Arena Football League before two years with the Redskins and Dolphins, one might suggest Armstrong is content with finally wearing the star on his helmet.
But the speedy receiver who was signed on Monday says he's hungrier than ever to prove he belongs here.
"This is a huge opportunity for me," Armstrong said. "I've always wanted to play here, but I have to earn it. I have to work harder than ever."
And Armstrong will certainly get his chance to shine, whether it's at wide receiver or on special teams. He's got track-like speed, and no matter what position he lines up at, there is always a use for that.
Armstrong said the fastest he's ever been clocked in the 40-yard dash is 4.24, which was about four years ago. So what about now?
"Fast enough," he said. "I wanted to get to a point where I didn't have to run a 40 in the workout. I can still cover and run down the field and catch the deep ball. I'm looking forward to doing that again."
And no matter where he has played, that's one thing that hasn't changed for Armstrong. He's always been able to run. And it's that speed that has opened doors for him.
His ticket from the IFL in Midland to the AFL in Dallas occurred in an open tryout at Texas Stadium, when the Desperados, owned and operated by Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys' personnel, got a close-up look at Armstrong's blazing speed.
Will McClay, the Desperados coach at the time who now works on the Cowboys' pro scouting department as the director of football research, recalled Armstrong running a 4.27 at a workout filled with below-average athletes who were just happy with running on the same field as the Cowboys.
But Armstrong definitely stood out.
"I said, 'Who is this skinny kid?'" McClay said. "But I knew we needed to invite him back."
Armstrong spent two years in the indoor game, which was a challenge for someone that fast, playing on a smaller 50-yard field.
"It took me a year and him a year to understand how to play in the arena game," McClay said. "He had to understand how to play on a shorter field and I had to figure out how to use him so he didn't run out of room. But he figured it out, and the thing about him is that he's not just fast, but he can start and stop very quick. He knows how to change directions and that will help him on any field."
Before McClay coached the Desperados, he was a pro scout in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars had a speedy receiver named Alvis Whitted, who was a pure track-guy who could open up running lanes for receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. McClay said Armstrong immediately reminded him of Whitted, although he says Armstrong is more of a route-runner and understands football better.
Armstrong said he's hoping to use that understanding to figure out the Cowboys' offense as soon as possible.
"I hold myself to a pretty high standard. I think I can catch on to the offense pretty well," Armstrong said. "From what I've seen so far, the way this offense is, it seems easy to catch on. Hopefully, I'll be able to be plugged in right away and make an impact soon."
Armstrong played two years in Washington, where he started 11 games in 2010 and caught 44 passes, leading the NFL with a 19.8-yard average per catch. He was released by the Redskins before this year and the Cowboys tried to get him, but the Dolphins were higher on the claiming order and grabbed him. He played only five games for Miami and caught three passes for 12 yards.
"With Anthony, it's all about finding the right niche and the right place for him," McClay said. "He can run. He can fly down the field and make big plays. He can play on special teams, too."
Armstrong said he understands his role will have to be more than just a receiver, but he welcomes that opportunity, too.
"I've covered kickoffs, punts, participated in punt return," Armstrong said. "I've contributed on special teams. I always look to make an impact there. I'm looking to do whatever I can to help out. I'm comfortable here. I know some of these faces and I know the building. Now I just have to get plugged, earn everyone's respect and go play."