Armstrong owns up

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

Derick Armstrong needed half of last season to get into game shape.

He wasn't about to let that happen again, so he spent the off-season on his Texas ranch working out like never before.

"I still did most of the same things that I did last (off-season)," the wide receiver said. "I just worked out more and ate better. I just wanted to make sure when I came in I was where I needed to be instead of being overweight."

Armstrong lost nine pounds over the winter and weighed in at a trim 211 pounds when Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp kicked off last weekend.

"I was more disciplined," said Armstrong, who is 6-foot-2. "I went out and ran, which is something that I really didn't do (before). I exercised. I did the things that I needed to do to put myself and my teammates in a better situation.

"Right now I'm just having fun, watching the new guys run around and getting my work in at the same time."

Armstrong, also known as Big Country, was a CFL all-star last season after hauling in a team-high 83 catches for 1,142 yards, which were fourth most in the CFL.

He also had five catches for 89 yards in the East Division win over Toronto and made a 50-yard touchdown reception in the Grey Cup loss to Saskatchewan.

Armstrong's final numbers were impressive considering his rather slow start to the season, which was no doubt caused by his ill-preparedness. He got hurt and missed the third game of the season, and didn't crack the 100-yard mark until a late August game against the Toronto Argonauts.

'Getting closer'

By that time, though, Armstrong was ready to roll. He ended up with three 100-yard outings, not to mention a 205-yard performance in the Labour Day Classic, over the last 11 weeks of the season.

GM Brendan Taman didn't say anything to Armstrong during his exit interview about coming back in shape.

"No, they left it up to me," Armstrong said. "They knew, and I knew, and it was just one of those situations where it's better for the team. And that's what I wanted to do."

Thanks to his off-season work, you can bet the Bombers are expecting big production out of Big Country this season.

"I'm not sure he was still at the top of his game when he came in, but you can see him getting better, getting closer," head coach Doug Berry said. "It's not fair to say he's pacing himself. I don't think that's the case.

"But you can just see him getting better as game time starts approaching. That's what we want. He's starting to peak."

Armstrong has his family back in Texas to thank for his improved fitness level. Whenever he didn't feel like strapping on the running shoes, they gently prodded him.

"Sometimes I would get up and I would be tired and I didn't want to do much," he said, "but my family was like, 'Maybe you need to go do it. You need to go do it right now.'

"Even my kids, man! They were like, 'Dad, are you going to work out?' I'd say, 'Yeah, yeah.'"

It's even more important for Armstrong to be in tiptop shape early this season, as star slotback Milt Stegall could miss the start of the campaign due to off-season knee surgery.

Armstrong, who has the potential to lead the league in receiving despite playing the wide receiver position, won't say what he wants to accomplish in 2008.

"I can be a lot better," he said. "I've got a lot of goals that I set for myself. I don't want to reveal them right now, but I've set a lot of goals.

"I'm just going to go out and try to achieve those goals."

By reporting to camp in shape, he's already 1-for-1.


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