Arik Armstead has been close to Joe Cattolico since his middle school years, even before the 49ers defensive lineman played for him at Pleasant Grove High School.
The pair maintained a close bond as Armstead made his way to the University of Oregon and, eventually, leading San Francisco in sacks this season. Believing that Cattolico shaped the man and athlete that he has become, Armstead chose to honor his former coach at the sixth annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards during a Thursday ceremony in San Francisco, which will be broadcast Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.
Armstead said Cattolico's mentorship included serious discussions and, sometimes, tough love.
“A big reason I became good as a football player was being coached by him and his leadership,” Armstead told NBC Sports Bay Area last week before the ceremony. “He’s a stern guy, very disciplined and detail-oriented. I loved playing for him, he was hard on us and really pushed us to play at an extremely high level, and I was fortunate to be a part of the team."
One of Armstead’s most poignant memories of Cattolico, who left Pleasant Grove in 2012 as the school's winningest coach, did not begin as a positive interaction. But in the end, it was an incident that still resonates with Armstead to this day.
“[We] were at practice one day and he just went off on me," Armstead recalled. "He went off on me in from of everybody, and I was kind of thrown off by it. Like, ‘Why are you going off on me? I’m one of the better players on the team. I really didn’t do anything.’
“I was kind of upset, and then after practice, he pulled me to the side and told me, ‘Arik, you’re the leader of this team and me saying something to you, and holding you accountable, and going off on you sends a message.’ "
Cattolico is proud to have been a part of Armstead's growth. One of Cattolico’s goals as a coach is for the guidance to not stop when the player steps off the field or court, and he and Armstead have stayed close.
Armstead remains very close to the greater Sacramento community, too, promoting equal opportunities in education for underserved youth. He raised over $100,000 at his charity gala during the offseason that was well-attended by 49ers players, former teammates and other notable athletes.
Armstead's efforts also fall in line with the lessons Cattolico taught him.
“What makes Arik special as well is the kind of human being he is,” Cattolico said. “Arik is obviously a phenomenal player, as good as anybody that I’ve been around or ever seen, but I would also say that about him as a human. He’s as good of a person that I’ve ever been around, and I think that’s what makes him special.”
Armstead and Cattolico have similar goals in mind. Both have been successful in shaping the lives of others, and that is why they remain such close friends.
“The underlying theme is the care and concern and interest in the lives of young people,” Cattolico said. “We have to be about something bigger than our sport.”