SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Roseville High School football coach Joe Cattolico has seen a lot of talent over the years, but he says one of the best people he’s ever coached was current 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead.
“Arik was tremendously unselfish,” Cattolico said. “He was a great teammate. He was a great classmate and student.”
Coach Cattolico met Armstead back when he was the football coach at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove. He immediately noticed his height.
“I haven’t coached a lot of guys that are taller than I am,” he said. “So as a (6-foot-4) guy, I’m not used to looking up to people.”
Christa and Guss Armstead say growing up in Elk Grove, their son took an early interest in sports.
“Salvation Army playing basketball. He was 6 or 7 years old, always being the really big kid,” Guss Armstead said.
At age 9, Armstead played Pop Warner, but stuck mostly to basketball. Then, in high school, he started playing football for the Laguna Creek Cardinals.
“He had to play two ages up, so he actually played with his oldest brother Armond’s classmates. And they would come and say, ‘Your little brother is just a monster on the field,’” Crista Armstead said.
He transferred to Pleasant Grove, where his legacy continues today.
“He actually accidentally bent a desk in one of my friend’s classrooms,” Cattolico said. “And kids would come in in subsequent years and they would ask why the desk was bent that way. And the gentlemen who was the teacher would explain that was Arik’s desk and he always tells me the kids wanted to sit in Arik’s desk.”
Before graduating, he was offered a scholarship from the University of Oregon but coach Cattolico says, despite an injury, he didn’t give up on his high school teammates.
“He played his whole senior year for us with a shoulder that basically didn’t work,” Cattolico said. “He already had a scholarship and everything else and he felt like it was important to play for his teammates, for his friends.”
Armstead’s parents said they know he’ll be ready for the Super Bowl because he has experience playing in big games for Pleasant Grove and Oregon.
“Pac-12 championship, high school championship. National championship game. Rose Bowl,” Guss Armstead said.
“When I call him he says, ‘Mom, I’m studying.’ So I know he’s doing a lot of studying film,” Crista Armstead said.
Armstead was picked by the 49ers in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft, 17th overall.
Now in his fifth season with the Niners, his friends and family say he’s always remembered his Sacramento roots.
“When God began to bless him and he began to have some success, Arik really always was thinking of other people,” his dad said.
In the summer, Armstead hosts a football training camp for kids and he has raised more than $100,000 for his Armstead Academic Project, which helps underserved youth in Sacramento.
“He really feels a really strong conviction to use the opportunity he’s been given through football to do some things to try to help fix some of the problems that we see in our society today,” Cattolico said.
Now, those who know him are thrilled to see him heading to play in the biggest football game of the year.
“I personally have a really good feeling about it,” his mother said.
“There’s no way that you can’t be excited as parents about that,” Guss Armstead told FOX40.
“I sure hope they’re going to win, obviously,” Coach Cattolico said. “But I think it’ll be a heck of a game.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, friends and family that can’t make it to Miami plan to watch Armstead and the rest of the 49ers at a watch party at Bayside Church’s midtown Sacramento location.