New England Patriots defensive lineman Armond Armstead took a circuitous route to get to the National Football League. The trip began in the usual manner as he starred at Pleasant Grove High in Elk Grove, Calif., then played three years on scholarship at University of Southern California and was projected as a high draft pick.
Then everything changed in a heartbeat, literally.
Armstead’s journey to the NFL eventually required stops in the hospital, Los Angeles Superior Court, Canada and outposts between.
Heading into his 2011 senior season at USC, Armstead (6-5, 298) was projected as high as a third-round pick by NFLDraftScout.com. But that spring he suffered a heart attack and was not cleared to play by the USC medical staff.
He claimed the heart attack was caused from injections of the painkiller Toradol by the school’s doctors. So he sat out the season and even when he decided to declare for the 2012 draft, USC denied him permission to work out at the school’s Pro Day. So he took part in a Pro Day at Sacramento State, near his home.
Despite feeling great and working out well, Armstead was not drafted or even signed as a free agent even after numerous workouts for teams, including the Patriots.
Rejected by the NFL, Armstead sued USC for more than $7 million in the summer of 2012, alleging that the school’s doctors forced on him the painkiller Toradol without informing him of the possible side effects. Armstead believes the drug caused the heart attack after his junior season and damaged his future earning potential.
And it got nasty.
His lawyer, Roger Dreyer from Sacramento, alleged that USC knew Armstead suffered a heart attack and purposely withheld that he had received Toradol from doctors at UCLA and elsewhere.
“Lane Kiffin knew,” Dreyer said, naming the USC coach. “Pat Haden knew. All these people knew that Armond had a heart attack.”
When asked how he might calculate damages, Dreyer referenced former USC defensive end Nick Perry, who signed for $7.5 million with the Green Bay Packers after being taken in the first round of the 2012 draft.
“One he has a history of having a heart attack, that’s something he has to deal with the rest of his life. The consequences are major.”
The 37-page lawsuit also listed an unnamed pharmaceutical company, team physician Dr. James Tibone and the University Park Health Center as defendants.
But Armstead needed to move on.
To prove to himself and NFL teams that he was fit for football, Armstead signed with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts last year. He starred by making 43 tackles and led the team with six sacks.
Finally, this January several NFL teams were ready to take a chance of him. He chose the Patriots. And now he appears to be one of those versatile defensive linemen that coach Bill Belichick likes to move here, there and everywhere.
Armstead admits he appreciates the chance more now than he might have under more ordinary situations. Although he isn’t forgiving of forgetting his bad experience at USC as the law suit is still pending, Armstead takes a positive attitude about his ordeal.
“It was a great experience living in a different country and getting to experience a different culture and everything,” he said of his time in Canada. “Just having an opportunity to play professionally, even though it was Canadian, I was just excited to have the opportunity.
“I feel like I learned a lot — how to be a pro and how to approach your work and everything. I feel like it’s going to help me out a lot.”
After being in Foxborough for a few weeks, and with a year of CFL action under his belt, Armstead is clearly a few steps ahead of the draft picks and rookie free agents he worked with during the rookie minicamp last weekend. Technically, he is an NFL rookie with pro football experience.
“I don’t know what to consider myself,” he said. “I would say I’m a rookie in the NFL, so yeah I’m a rookie.”
Armstead has prior experience at a variety of spots on the defensive line, working as a tackle, end, situation pass rusher and even a standup defender.
“Whatever I can do to get on the field, that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
And while he already has done plenty to get on the field with New England, Armstead isn’t taking anything for granted. He knows he is the guy that former USC coach Pete Carroll projected as a future first-round pick. But he also knows how suddenly things change.
“I feel like a lot of the experiences I’ve had the last two or three years have humbled me a lot. It just made me appreciate everything I’m given more and not take stuff for granted.
“Being a highly-recruited player and going to a school like USC, you kind of take for granted the opportunities. You see guys who don’t even play go to the NFL. So you take that for granted. You think, ‘Oh, I’m going to go to the NFL too.’ My experience, what happened to me, definitely made me more hungry and made me more humble.
“I feel like the experiences I’ve had, I wouldn’t say it’s a chip on my shoulder but I don’t take anything for granted. I approach work every day and I appreciate everything I’m given a lot more. I’m not angry at anybody, but I just want to show everyone what I can do.”
And now he finally is getting that chance.