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KSU's BRYSON ARMSTRONG grabs hold of Samford University's Andrew Harris after he makes a catch over the middle during the Owls game Saturday night in Kennesaw.

KENNESAW -- It wasn't too long ago that Kennesaw State linebacker Bryson Armstrong was a wide-eyed freshman trying to find his way.

Now, the Big South Conference Preseason Defensive Player of the Year is about to begin his third season with the Owls, with the realization that he is now closer to college graduation than his days when he played at Kell High School.

"Time definitely flies," Armstrong said. "When I took my official visit, I roomed with Bronson Rechsteiner. Now, he's a senior. It goes by fast."

When he first arrived on campus, Armstrong was just expected to play football.

A starter from Day 1, he was not expected to be a leader of the defense. He had an opportunity to lean on the "OGs," the group that made up the inaugural Kennesaw State roster -- linebackers Izzy Sam and Anthony Gore, defensive back Jace White and safety Taylor Henkle, a former Kell teammate of Armstrong's.

They helped Armstrong learn what it meant to be a college football player. 

"With the OGs, it was easy to listen and follow," Armstrong said. "Henkle was the easy one to go to. We were already good friends from playing at Kell, but I followed Izzy, A.G. and Jace."

While Armstrong said the transition from high school to college football was tough, he didn't show it. The 5-foot-11, 212-pound junior put up a freshman season for the ages. He set a team record with 114 tackles, set a team and Big South mark with 11 sacks, had three interceptions and tied for the national lead with four fumbles recovered.

For his efforts, Armstrong became the first defensive player to win the Jerry Rice Award, presented to the best freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision.

In addition, Armstrong earned a spot on a number of All-American teams and was named the Big South Co-Freshman of the Year and first-team all-conference selection.

Now, Armstrong is hoping to return the favor. Known to have a quiet and reserved personality, he is trying to take everything he learned from his former teammates and reach out to the new Kennesaw State freshmen in hopes of helping them make their own successful path to the college game. 

"I'm speaking more and trying to lead more," said Armstrong, one of eight returning starters on the Owls' defense. "I'm trying to keep up what the OGs started. 

"I've been trying to approach (the freshmen) so they are comfortable around me, because I know how tough it can be that first year trying to fit in. I just want to be their friend and help them understand how fast everything is their freshman year, let them know they are going to make mistakes, and help them get better."

It is a role coach Brian Bohannon said he appreciates, because it is another way of the team being holding each other accountable.

"Being a rah-rah guy is not (Armstrong's) personality," Bohannon said. "He leads on the field and behind the scenes, and that's what he's doing to help encourage those guys, because he knows coming out for the first time there is a lot to process." 

Armstrong will also have an opportunity to tutor some of the sophomores this season who play well, but do not put up the same kind of numbers they did as a freshman. Last season, Armstrong was a key member of a defense that held opponents to 262.4 yards of total offense and 15.4 points per game, but because he was used differently, he did not put up the same kind of numbers.

Armstrong had 62 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one interception as Kennesaw State went 11-2 and made it to the FCS quarterfinals. It appeared as if he was used more in coverage than he was as a pass-rusher, but that may change this season.

"You take your personnel and do the things they do best," Bohannon said. "I think, this year, he's going to be one of our better pass rushers."

Heading into this season, Armstrong has been selected to preseason FCS All-American teams by STATS and Phil Steele.

To him, it is no big deal. He just wants to play football.

"I don't want to say it isn't an honor," Armstrong said, "but it's preseason for a reason. I really don't pay any attention to it. Usually, my dad tells me about them."

As Kennesaw State prepares to open against Point at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on Aug. 31, Armstrong said he just wants to concentrate on maintaining the standards set by those that came before him, and continue to help the players who are going to come behind him.

It also sounds like Armstrong expects to take everything to another level on his side of the ball.

"(Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Blake) Harrell said we're going to be the 'BDN,'" Armstrong said. "The best defense in the nation. There's no doubt we're the best defense out there."

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