Under the Helmet: My Interview with 49ers’ Arik Armstead (Exclusive)

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The 2015 NFL season will bring a lot of new faces to the San Francisco 49ers. Between retirements, free agency, and rookies, Niners fans have a lot of players to get to know. I figure a good place to start is with SF’s #1 Draft Pick, Arik Armstead. The defensive tackle out of Oregon has ties to the Bay Area, as he was raised in Sacramento. He is big at 6’7” and over 290 lbs and is a dual-sport athlete, having played basketball for the Ducks as well. He brings with him a raw talent and a good grasp on the 49ers’ defense, which is pretty similar to what he saw in college.

But there’s a lot more to Armstead. I spoke with Arik, his father Guss, and his brother Armond to learn more about Arik and what we can expect from him as he embarks on his rookie season. Join me as I go Under the Helmet with Arik Armstead.

Under the Helmet with 49ers Arik Armstead and Tracy Sandler 49ersfangirl

All in the family

Arik is the youngest of four children. His brother Armond, 24, played football at USC, in the CFL, and was signed by the New England Patriots before health concerns forced him to retire. His brother Aaron, 26, lives and works in the Bay area, and his sister Alexis, 22, is a Junior Pastor at the church where Arik’s mother, Christa, is the Worship Pastor. His father Guss is the Founder and CEO of 2 The Hoop Basketball Services, working with NBA players, members of the European league, and collegiate players.

“I think Arik has learned, because of the exposure that he had, being around professional athletes his whole life, he’s learned how to work and work hard and train like a professional,” said Guss. “He put in a lot of time, being a dual-sport athlete. He’s made a lot of sacrifices…trying to achieve his dreams…He’s going to give them everything he has, because that’s how he’s always been.”

Though their paths have been very different, Armond has had a major role in getting Arik ready for professional football.

“His approach, his mentality, always in attack mode. Always getting after guys. That mentality I learned from [Armond],” Arik told me. “…Technique-wise, he’s taught me a lot, from my footwork to my hands…And off the field, my brother’s taught me…how to be strong, how to be a man, how to handle adversity.”

“You know, my brother was an awesome player and his career was cut short, but, you know, I’m looking forward to carrying my family’s name on the football field and making them proud. You know my brother’s always out there with me when I’m playing, and he’s helping me, still to this day, and the fact that he can’t play anymore motivated me, and I don’t take anything for granted.”

The brotherly admiration goes both ways.

“It’s been a blast to see [Arik] develop as a player and as a man, just to see how hard he’s been working and the fruits of his labor,” said Armond. “…I’m really proud of him as a brother, for him just growing up as a man and growing up in football…”

Are you ready for some football?

As we are all well aware, the 49ers have lost a number of defensive stars this offseason, making Armstead’s development as a player even more important to the success of the Niners. It will take some adjustments and learning, but Arik is excited to jump in and learn everything that he can.

“I have the opportunity with guys retiring. My position is kind-of wide open. I just want to come in and learn as much as I can, meet my teammates, learn from them; meet my coaches, continue to build a relationship with them; and learn as much as I can, just get better every day really. Like I said, a lot of opportunity, and I’m hoping to grasp the opportunities as best I can.”

Speaking of the coaching staff, it seems as if Arik is developing a good relationship with the people tasked with turning this raw talent into a solid defensive player.

“I met with Coach Mangini a couple times during rookie minicamp, but primarily I’m talking to Coach [Scott] Brown, my position coach…Real good relationship…I met them on my trips before the draft and got a good relationship with them; and looking forward to continuing to build that relationship.”

“I talk to Coach [Tomsula] every time I see him. He’s a real good guy. We have a good relationship as well, and I look forward to continuing that…I won’t be working with him as much, him being the head coach now, but any chance I see him and get to sit down with him, I’ll take that opportunity.”

In terms of coaching, a major positive with Armstead is how similar San Francisco’s defensive scheme is to the one he played in at Oregon. Guss Armstead thinks that will be helpful in getting Arik acclimated relatively quickly.

“I just know the schemes are similar to what Arik has done in Oregon, and I think, uh, Arik’s excited, because he thinks can assimilate himself to the scheme. And with his size and his skill set, I think he feels like he really fits well into that style…I think we’re all excited about it and just excited about the challenge; and continue to grow in his game; and continue to learn from all the other veterans.”

Armond shares his dad’s sentiment, but he also knows being a rookie comes with its own set of challenges.

“There’s gonna be guys that have been around and know things that he doesn’t know about the game. Just him learning, because, you know, he’s a kid. He’s only 21 years-old, so he’s gonna learn that there’s guys out there that know things he doesn’t know, and it just takes time…He has the skill set…He’s a smart kid. He can get the defense down with work and studying hard, but that experience of getting used to playing with guys that are at that level…”

Does Arik agree that will be a challenge? Yes. Does he know that he has the tools to work through that challenge and succeed? Also yes.

“…I’m in new surroundings, new people. So, I think, you know, once I get to meet everybody, get settled in, get out on the field, practice a couple times…continue to learn, and…listen to what my coaches have for me, I think I’ll be alright. But I think the biggest challenge will be, you know, I’m a rookie, so I don’t know everything, trying to figure everything out.”

Sweet Home San Francisco

Playing in the NFL is a dream come true for budding football stars. Getting drafted by a team that’s practically in your backyard is major icing on the cake.

“It’s huge for me to be able to still be in Northern California…to only be an hour and half from home and all my friends and family can come to my games…I love this part of the country. I love this part of California – to have the opportunity to represent Northern California is huge.”

Guss and Armond are pretty excited about it too.

(Guss) “Proximity, being able to enjoy it, being so close to home…We have a lot of connections in the Bay Area. Festus Ezeli is one of my players, with the Warriors, so, there’s a lot of things that make it real appealing for Arik to play in the Bay. But the biggest thing is the family being able to support him. And hopefully that’s where he’ll end up his whole career – would be a blessing.”

(Armond) “Oh it’s great, ’cause we can just drive to the games. It’s truly in God’s plan and it’s a blessing that he’s there. Just the way that things, you know, everything happened, everything shook out, is just perfect for him.”

Under the Helmet-Arik Armstead and 49ersfangirl Tracy Sandler

Parting Thoughts

Personally, I’m really excited to see Arik Armstead in a 49ers’ uniform. Aside from his size and ability, I believe he has the potential to evolve not only as a player, but as a leader in the locker room. This kid is talented with a good head on his shoulders.

“As a dad, aside from football…Arik is just a really high-level…good person. He’s a really good person,” Guss said. “And, you know, I just think that he’s going to do really well, because he’s really ambitious and he’s really driven…God’s given him a lot of abilities…He’s excited about the challenge, and you know, he’s going to give it all that he has.”

I asked Arik if there was anything else he wanted the fans to know and he said this:

“If you have the opportunity to meet me, I think you’ll see the kind of guy I am, so I’ll leave it at that.”

I will leave it at that too. Except to say, as always, Go Niners!

Learn 5 Fun Facts About Arik Armstead here!

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Tracy Sandler

Bleeding gold and staying Niner faithful, I bring you the latest news features & commentary on my beloved San Francisco 49ers.

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