Jennifer Lee Chan

How Arik Armstead's high-school coach shaped 49ers D-lineman's journey

How Arik Armstead's high-school coach shaped 49ers D-lineman's journey

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.”

[RELATED: Ward says 49ers can counter Chiefs' speed with big hits]

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.” 

Why Mecole Hardman believes he's ready to test 49ers' Richard Sherman

Why Mecole Hardman believes he's ready to test 49ers' Richard Sherman

MIAMI -- Kansas City Chiefs receiver Mecole Hardman is looking forward to facing 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV, but he might want to be careful what he wishes for. 

The two players met when Hardman was a teenager at The Opening, a showcase for the top high school football players in the country. Hardman has communicated with Sherman on social media since then, but meeting on the field in the biggest game of the year will obviously take the cake. 

“I met him at The Opening for the first time when I was in 11th grade,” Hardman said. “I met him and kind of like talked to him and everything. It’s crazy actually playing against him in the Super Bowl now. I was playing corner at the time so he was kind of a guy that I looked up to and kind of wanted to be like a little bit.

"And playing against him now is kind of crazy.” 

Hardman has a lot of respect for the veteran, and he knows Sherman has the advantage of experience on his side. 

“His knowledge for the game,” Hardman said. “I think he’s a film junkie from talking to him at The Opening. He always watches film. He tries to get the best of his opponent. He’s trying to be a step up on the field.”  

Hardman, who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine has speed on his side. He finished his rookie season catching 26 of his 41 targets for 538 yards and six touchdowns. He averages 11.5 yards after catch, partly due to his blazing speed. 

Hardman faced off with Sherman in the preseason, but the rookie shared that it wasn’t a true test of what their matchup could be on Sunday. Even with speed on his side, the Chiefs receiver couldn’t put his finger on what his advantage would be over the veteran. 

“That’s kind of hard,” Hardman said. “I’ve never been against him. I think I went against him one time in the preseason, but he really wasn’t playing like that. But I’m going to try to see what I can get him at, you know?” 

[RELATED: Ward says 49ers can counter Chiefs' speed with big hits]

Sherman is well known to easily be motivated by doubt and slights, real or manufactured, but trash talking certainly moves the barometer. Hardman has plans to poke the proverbial bear on Sunday, which could prove to be lethal. 

“He's a great trash talker I heard,” Hardman said. “So I’m ready to talk a little trash with him out there, try to see if I can get him going, but it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to the matchup.”  

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

49ers coach Johnny Holland still gets nervous after 32 years in NFL

49ers coach Johnny Holland still gets nervous after 32 years in NFL

MIAMI — After 32 years in the league, 49ers outside linebackers coach and run game specialist  Johnny Holland admits he still gets butterflies before games. 

The venerable coach entered the league in 1987 as a linebacker the Packers took in the second round. He amassed 100 tackles in five consecutive seasons in Green Bay earning the nickname "Mr. Everywhere." After a seven-year career, Holland made the transition to coaching, where he was part of the Packers staff that won Super Bowl XXXI. 

Even at this point in his career as a coach, games still get Holland’s nerves going. 

“Oh, no doubt,” Holland told NBC Sports Bay Area with a little laugh. “Before every game. I get nervous before a preseason game. It never ends. I don’t have to play and still get nervous but that’s what it’s all about. You never know, and that’s what makes it fun.”

The journey back to the Super Bowl for Holland has been 23 years long but he knew that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan had something special brewing.

“The 0-9 start of a season, a 4-12 season, and now you’re in the Super Bowl,” Holland said.  “We always talk about last year coaching in the Senior Bowl in Mobile for going 4-12 and now we’re here in Miami coaching the Super Bowl. It says a lot about guys from top to bottom with John and Kyle and the culture of our team. It’s awesome.” 

After two difficult seasons, Holland knew that eventually, the 49ers would see success. He could tell how unique the locker room was, how close and supportive the players were of each other.

“We knew it was going to be something special after the first year. That first year after going 0-9 we knew it was different here. Watching practice here at 0-9 is no different than watching it now. Guys practice and play with energy, they kept the confidence and stayed with the plan.” 

The coaching staff has tried to keep the schedule the same for the players all week. With all of the extra media responsibilities that come during the week before the Super Bowl, they prepared as if the game was last Sunday. 

[RELATED: Sherman 'had no animosity' for 49ers after Harbaugh left]

Holland believes that having the game installation and preparation done a week early will help reduce stress for the players but nerves are a natural part of the game.  

“If you’re relaxing and it’s no big deal, it’s probably not worth playing the game,” Holland said. “I’m sure everybody gets nervous. They say they don’t, but guys get nervous for sure.”  

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.