Carolina Panthers

Surprised Panthers drafted Alex Armah? His dad isn’t – and always hoped for Carolina

Carolina Panthers rookie fullback Alex Armah is the first player ever drafted out of West Georgia, and won’t play his primary college position in the NFL.
Carolina Panthers rookie fullback Alex Armah is the first player ever drafted out of West Georgia, and won’t play his primary college position in the NFL. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers sixth-round draft pick Alex Armah was watching the draft last month from his parents’ home in Georgia and mentally preparing himself to become an undrafted free agent pickup.

He was a two-way star both in high school and at West Georgia, but with each program he had to work his way up – even redshirting his freshman year of college, something that he says really humbled him.

But after putting on weight and showing his collegiate coaches – who mostly had kept him as a pass-rusher or linebacker – that could knock defenses on their fannies with what quickly became a trademark of his – the “swinging gate” trick play – Armah became one of the most celebrated West Georgia football players in recent history and earned the school’s prestigious “Mr. Wolf” award.

That doesn’t quite translate into NFL glory, however, and Armah knew it – no prior NFL draft pick had ever come from West Georgia, after all.

But his dad, Alex Armah Sr., never doubted.

“He knew what he had in me,” Armah said this week. “He tells me all the time, ‘Son, you’re going to be great. You’re going to do great things.’”

Armah said his success is a product of his work ethic and demeanor, something he gets from his father.

“He’s a prime example of chasing your dream,” Armah said.

Born in Ghana, Armah Sr. came to America immediately out of college in 1989 for an accounting internship in Atlanta, and worked his way up the corporate ladder. He met the love of his life, Tina, a Southern girl from Mississippi, and they settled down in tiny Dacula, Ga., to raise what blossomed to a family of four.

“My family, we have a very strong family background. When I met my wife, she had a similar upbringing, very strong on family values,” said Armah Sr.

Setting the table

In part, that meant sitting down together as a family for meals every night.

“Growing up, I never introduced them to going out to eat,” said Armah Sr. “I emphasized on the fact that we needed to cook at home. We always had home-cooked meals.”

Armah Sr. laughed.

“My son loves to eat! He loves to try everything. There was nothing he wouldn’t eat. ... He never missed out on a meal!”

Armah joked that might help explain a little bit of his prodigious size, and his eyes grew huge when describing a typical meal his parents would prepare: Southern tradition, with a twist.

“My mom and dad would both cook, and that was cool,” he said. “There was some good eatin’ going on. We’d have like, fufu with shito, it’s African food. I describe it as thicker mashed potatoes (and a peppery hot sauce). And then we’d have my mom’s fried chicken. She can just throw a pot of food together that will blow your mind.”

Like many Ghanians, Armah Sr. had much more familiarity with soccer than American football growing up. Armah Sr.’s brother, Victor (who passed away last year), actually played for the Ghanian national team.

Armah Sr. never pressured Armah to stick with soccer, something that Armah really appreciates. And once his son took to football, Armah Sr. and the rest of the family was all in.

“I learned all the rules, and I loved the action. I understand the game,” said Armah Sr.

Know where you’re needed

That carried over into the draft process. Armah Sr. and Armah studied all of the NFL teams during Armah’s senior season at West Georgia and quickly developed a bit of an attachment to the Panthers because of their use of the fullback position.

“It’s so funny because during the NFL season, I said, ‘Son, what teams would really fit you best?’” said Armah Sr. “And Carolina was No. 1 as to what teams he would fit well, as to the position he plays – H-back, running back, (fullback), just pounding the rock and blocking.”

But attention from Carolina did not come until Armah’s pro day. A scout approached Armah, according to Armah Sr., and said “Alex! You don’t know us, but we have been following you.”

Carolina notably did not bring Armah in for a top-30 visit, but area scout Jeff Beathard spoke up in a draft meeting to first draw the attention of head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman to the little-known, small-school prospect. The team followed up with a private workout at West Georgia.

Several other teams did bring him in for a top-30 visit, but Armah said he didn’t dare believe he’d really be drafted.

“I wasn’t expecting it. I was ready to work as a free agent,” he said.

“Leading up to the draft, we were hopeful. I’ll put it that way,” said Armah Sr.

‘I’m behind you 100 percent’

So when that call finally came in, they were delighted – though his dad was not surprised.

“He’s very strong. Very athletic. He can do anything and everything that involves the outdoors! I always say, ‘Whatever you want to do, son, I’m behind you 100 percent,’” he said.

“We thought this was like the perfect situation. This is the team we have been following for some time now. We are aware of the injuries, we are aware of the running back crew, we are aware of the fact that they use fullbacks – one of the few teams in the NFL that really uses fullbacks – so we were really happy.

“To me, this is the call that we wanted to get ... this is just the icing on the cake, being drafted by the team we wanted to play on and be a part of.”

Armah’s parents had the chance to visit him in Charlotte for the first time last week.

“(Charlotte is) good! It’s growing. There’s a lot of construction,” Armah Sr. laughed.

Sounds like the Armah family already fits right in.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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