LINCOLN, Neb. -- Tommy Armstrong hasn't shared the story of Nebraska's shared success with many people.
To even consider his spiritual reasoning requires as much faith as it does a suspension of belief.
Nebraska's quarterback says he and the Huskers wouldn't be here today -- 5-0 and ranked in the top 10 -- without some other-worldly intervention.
"I know he's watching over us," Armstrong said of former teammate Sam Foltz. "I know he's doing as much as he can to help us out this season."
Foltz was killed in July in a car accident returning from a kicking camp in Wisconsin. His death has been both tragic and inspiring. The story of the precocious senior-to-be punter made national headlines. The loss drilled a hole in the hearts of Huskers everywhere.
But here's the thing: A lot of folks here don't think Foltz is gone. Physically, certainly. But there are too many signs to suggest Sam isn't watching over the Huskers.
"It certainly seems like his presence is there everywhere in Lincoln," said Saul Soltero, a local businessman. "And all over the state."
Armstrong is convinced it was Foltz's presence that willed him onto the field Sept. 17 to eventually score the winning touchdown against Oregon.
The quarterback already had been cramping up. An IV was practically hanging from his arm when the Huskers got the ball back quickly in the fourth quarter.
"You good to go?" a coach asked Armstrong.
"I told him I didn't know," the quarterback recalled.
Then Armstrong glanced down to the bench where the team had ceremoniously placed Foltz's No. 27 jersey for each game.
"It gave me the extra energy to finish that game with all those cramps and things," he said.
Not only finish, but break a powerful 34-yard scoring run to beat the then-No. 22 Ducks. Heading to Indiana this week, the Huskers are 5-0 for the third time in seven years.
This, though, feels different because it feels better. There is more familiarity, more camaraderie in coach Mike Riley's second season -- a sense that something is beginning instead of declining.
Nebraska has not tasted a conference title since 1999. That despite actually playing for the national championship two years later thanks to wacky BCS logic.
As the fourth Nebraska coach since Tom Osborne retired in 1997, Riley gets all of it.
"I think coaching changes are hard on players," he said. "Coaches can plop down. They have a place to watch film. But it's hard on kids.
"They're going, 'Why is this going on? Who are these [coaches]?'"
Riley's biggest contribution to this point may be a certain sensitivity. At times, there seems to have been nothing but upheaval here since Riley arrived from Oregon State in 2015.
A 5-7 regular-season debut pleased no one. The only reason Nebraska got to the postseason was the glut of bowls required three teams with losing records to be invited.
In late June, sexual assault victim Brenda Tracy confronted Riley for what she believed was his enabling of Oregon State players who raped her. Foltz died a month later.
Sensitivity, sure, but Riley's mind has been racing since he arrived here. He had to find a way to win without offending player sensibilities.
"The first thing I thought was, 'We gotta make this thing work,' Riley recalled. "I don't want to bring in a graduate transfer quarterback.' We wanted to embrace the people we had here."
Riley had the sense to tweak his pro-style offense that has sent three Oregon State quarterbacks to the NFL to suit Armstrong's running ability.
Good call. There are a only handful of redshirt senior quarterbacks nationally in their fourth year starting at the same school despite a coaching change. It just isn't seen these days in an age of impatience for diva quarterbacks.
Armstrong represented stability, and stability is important then and now at Nebraska.
"I struggled a little bit definitely because Sam was one of my closest friends," he said. "I know he's watching over us. I know he's doing as much as he can to help us out this season."
We are being told, then, some sort of patron saint walks the Nebraska sideline. It's up to you how to interpret the signs. Every time Armstrong hears lightning, it's "Sam is up there unleashing 70 yarders."
Soltero, a hunting buddy of Armstrong and Foltz, tells the story of a picture his daughter snapped within a week of the punter's death.
A double rainbow appeared above Nebraska's Memorial Stadium. She posted the picture on Facebook labeling it as another sign of Sam.
"It immediately got 3,000 shares and likes," Soltero said. "It was surreal to see that thing go as far as it did."
Armstrong is thankful he never thought about transferring. He ran a career-high 98 times last season. Through five games this season, he's already at 60 rushing attempts.
That fortunate bowl game became a coming out. Armstrong ran 10 times for 76 yards and scored a touchdown in a Foster Farms Bowl win over UCLA.
"It kind of kicked off our second year," offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "He's such a competitor. It was good to put a little more on his shoulders."
Armstrong is already the Nebraska career leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Only three other players in the country have more career yards in total offense.
By the time Armstrong leaves here, it's possible only two Nebraska quarterbacks will have won more games -- Tommie Frazier and Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch.
How did all of this happen without us noticing? First, Riley had to turn down interest from multiple players, their parents and third-party reps offering grad transfer pro-style quarterbacks.
"Tommy has expanded our thoughts about recruiting quarterbacks," Riley said. "The threat of a guy who can truly be a dual-threat is hard on a defense.
"I think it was the right move for us to embrace him and not look for something that would just necessarily fit our past."
For Armstrong, it was about following through with the teammates he arrived with five seasons ago.
Foltz was one of them.
"I find myself looking at Sam's jersey every game," Armstrong said, "We always used to have those conversations before each game. Throughout those times, we had to express how we felt about each other."
It was a strange friendship, an African-American kid from Gulfport, Mississippi and a white kid from Grand Island, Nebraska.
"Just being teammates," is how Armstrong described their relationship. "When he became the punter, he used to tell me he was the fourth-down quarterback."
Armstrong whipped out his phone. On it, he has video of a hunting trip to Oklahoma, a fishing trip to Minnesota. They're all there -- Foltz, Armstrong, former Husker Jeremiah Sirles and Soltero.
Just a bunch of guys busting on each other. Armstrong reeled in a rare paddlefish. They shot boar.
"Tommy and Sam had a special bond that wasn't front-page news," said Soltero, a field director for Whitetails Unlimited.
Nebraska is taking to heart these days before it takes the field. Armstrong's roommate Jordan Westerkamp is close to becoming the program's career receiving leader. There is every chance the Huskers could be 7-0 when they head to Wisconsin later this month.
Riley has edged above .500 in his two seasons here at 10-7.
"Last year when we were going through [the losing] this thing could have really gotten bad," the coach said.
Instead, a program, a team and a state revealed itself. All you had to do was look up. Armstrong wasn't the only one to notice there was heavy rain the day Foltz
passed, the day of his funeral and the day of Nebraska's season-opening win over Fresno State.
"It's crazy to think that but if you believe in God and you believe in heaven, you know things that are signs," Armstrong said.