It seems unfair that a young man with such a gleaming future should rise every morning to this. The house where Justin Armour lives doesn't have a backyard so much as it has a field, which tumbles into a valley, which stretches toward the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains, indigo and severe.
"We do get some incredible sunsets," says Justin, a senior at Manitou Springs High School in Colorado. "Deer sleep right under my bedroom window, sometimes a whole herd. We're just very fortunate to be here. Of course, you have to watch out for the droppings."
Throughout the months of ego massage that have thus far constituted his senior year, Justin has repeated that same theme—that fortune has indeed smiled upon him. Whether the discussion concerns Justin's athletic ability or his intelligence or his role in the Manitou Springs Mustangs' state football championship last fall, he assiduously sidesteps full credit. "We've been very fortunate," he will say, or "I've been blessed."
No argument here. This will sound syrupy and should earn Justin some grief from his classmates, but it is true: Getting to know 18-year-old Justin bolsters one's faith in today's youth. Cynics, commence your sneering, then have a look at this résumé: Justin will be his class's valedictorian. He is a three-sport athlete, a member of the National Honor Society, the French club, the math and science club, president of the student council, editor of the school newspaper, a Bible scholar, a performer in school plays, a tutor, an antidrug spokesman and, of necessity, an accomplished catnapper. He is bound for Stanford this fall on a football scholarship, but he also plans to play basketball for the Cardinal.
"He's what we call a slam dunk," says Brian Billick, a Stanford assistant coach. "By that I mean, after one look at his transcript, you walk over to the admissions office and slam-dunk him through."
National signing day for high school football recruits was Feb. 6, but to spare himself and his family the infernal barrage of recruiters' calls, Justin decided on Stanford in early October. He then phoned all the jilted suitors to break the news. "I didn't want them to be wasting their time," he says. His politeness was not always reciprocated. Colorado assistant basketball coach Tom Abatemarco called Justin a fool and told him he was making a big mistake. Notre Dame assistant football coach Jay Hayes also ridiculed Justin's choice. "You're saying you want to go 4-7 every year and never play in a major bowl," said Hayes, whose negative recruiting might have been more effective if, a few days after their conversation, Stanford had not beaten the Irish 36-31 in South Bend. "And that," says Justin, "was the last we heard from Jay."
Stanford football coach Dennis Green says he plans to redshirt Justin next season, and will excuse him from football on Oct. 1, to give him time to get into basketball shape. With his ability to handle the ball and shoot from outside, Justin is projected as a small forward in college. "But eventually, he'll have to choose one sport over the other," says Billick, who believes that Justin's future is in throwing a football. "He's very accurate, has beautiful touch, throws a real nice deep ball. And he's tall [6'6"], which is what I prefer to see in a quarterback. I've seen other big quarterbacks up close—Dan McGwire, Scott Mitchell—and he is clearly a better athlete than those two. I've been at BYU and seen Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon, and I have never been as excited about a guy's potential as I am about Justin's."
From his tailback position in coach George Rykovich's quaint but effective single-wing offense, Justin threw 25 touchdown passes for the Musings last season. Coaches from among other places, UCLA, Michigan and USC wooed Justin for his right arm. But he also ran for 27 touchdowns, and many of his 1,320 rushing yards were tough inside efforts.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Justin is, you would like him. Dashing as he is, he is not some 6½ foot Ken doll. He has a bad haircut—"My mom cuts it," he says—and mild acne. Strong as his Christian values are, he is not above gossiping, flirting and trading insults. Justin even missed a recent prayer meeting because he was on the phone with a volleyball player from Longmont's Niwot High—a 6-foot, blonde volleyball player named Melissa Sharp.
Justin's success has come at one of the most spectacularly situated high schools in the country. Manitou Springs High rests at the foot of Pikes Peak, which, at 14, 110 feet, towers over the Ramparts. The town of Manitou Springs, seven miles west of Colorado Springs, has only 4,800 residents, yet anyone expecting the local teenagers to reflect a small-town homogeneity is in for a shock. John Harris sports a diamond-stud earring and wears sunglasses in the school halls; Diana Buchanan wears a ring in her nose and prefers to sit atop her desk during class; Will Schraml has a full beard and plans to become a Catholic priest. Only the dearth of black students—there are seven out of an enrollment of 347—reminds a visitor that he is in Colorado and not on the set of 21 Jump Street.