Behind the Pick: Q&A with Arik Armstead's High School Coach

At Pleasant Grove High School just outside Sacramento, Calif., Joe Cattolico helped groom Arik Armstead into a five-star prospect.

The coach and his pupil remained tight throughout the defensive lineman's standout career at Oregon. So when Armstead hosted a draft party last week for those closest to him, Cattolico made sure to attend.

To learn more about the San Francisco 49ers first-round pick and his upbringing, we recently tracked down Cattolico for a phone interview. 

The coach's question-and-answer session included some funny anecdotes about Armstead trying to fit into a normal-sized classroom and the dominate fashion in which he handled opposing players.

49ers.com:When you hear the name Arik Armstead, what comes to mind first?

Cattolico:Arik is one of the best young people that I've ever taught or coached. Aside from all of the football abilities, which are obviously tremendous, he's just a great person. He's a smart, funny and kind young man who is somebody a joy for other people to be around. He would be a great success in some other walk of life if he wasn't 6-foot-7, 290 (pounds). 

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49ers.com:** Arik has been described as a physical freak many times, and I'm sure that was no different in high school. How much did he stand out?

Cattolico: He stood out like a sore thumb. I know one of my colleagues has a desk in his classroom – he had Arik in the 10th grade for world history – and he's got a desk that is essentially bent so that it would fit Arik because a regular-sized desk was too hard for him to get into. It's now Arik's desk.

49ers.com: I've read that Arik played offense and defense in high school. How good was he as an offensive lineman?

Cattolico: Yeah, he was a left tackle for us. Obviously he was very, very good defensively, but he was just as good for us as an offensive tackle. He was pretty amazing on that side of the ball, too.

We played a first-round playoff game against a team from another league, and they had a young man who was a very good player who had been the defensive player of the year in their league. So we made it a big deal with Arik all week. He ended up taking this kid and driving him all the way onto the track on a run play to his side. Through the sideline, through all the people on the sideline and all the way out to the track that surrounds the field. 

49ers.com: What's your take on Arik as a basketball player? Do you think it will help him down the road?

Cattolico: People keep talking about the basketball thing like it was a negative. But I think it's a great argument for kids who want to play two sports for as long as you can. I think a lot of things you see physically on a football field from him are things that come in part from having a basketball background.

By the same token, part of the reason people are excited about his upside is he really has just now started being a full-time football player. So his ceiling is pretty high in part because of that. 

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49ers.com:** What makes Arik different than some of the other talented players that you've coached?

Cattolico: He's a kid who played 14 games for us with a bum shoulder as a senior when he was already committed to Oregon. He did it because it was important to the other people around him. He's the kind of person that is very giving of himself.

He can't go anywhere without everybody recognizing him. The maturity of having to stop every five steps and talk to somebody is pretty special. He's such a talented kid to be so interested in what is best for others over what's best for him.

49ers.com: He's coming to a 49ers team that has a longtime defensive line coach as its head coach, and he seems to be a perfect fit in the 3-4 defense, how do you think he'll do in the pro game given where he landed?

Cattolico: I think he'll do fantastic. He's a great fit schematically. There are a lot of similarities between what the 49ers do and he did at Oregon. He's pretty prototypical with what teams are looking for at that defensive end position in the three-man front.

Obviously there is going to be a learning curve for him like there is for everybody, but I think he's going to be outstanding. It's a pretty ideal situation all around.

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