FOXBOROUGH — For much of the Pete Carroll years, the Southern California football team was such a juggernaut that even players who mostly sat on the bench got a shot at the NFL (hello, Matt Cassel).
So defensive lineman Armond Armstead thought it was a foregone conclusion he would end up in the NFL, too — he was a starter at USC, and was on his way to becoming one of the select players taken in the first two or three rounds of the draft.
“Being a highly recruited player [out of high school] and going to a school like USC, you kind of take for granted the opportunities,” Armstead said Friday. “You see guys that 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,’ but my experience, what happened to me, it definitely made me more hungry and made me more humble.”
After bypassing the chance to leave school a year early after the 2010 season, Armstead suffered a heart attack during spring practices in 2011. In the hospital, it was suggested to him he might have to look for a different career path other than professional football player.
But the heart attack wasn’t the result of Armstead’s physical condition; doctors traced it to injections of Toradol, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug the USC medical staff had given him.
Armstead has since filed suit against University Park Health Center, USC team doctor James Tibone, and a pharmaceutical company, saying he neither asked for the injections nor was he told of the potential side effects, which include heart attack and stroke.
Armstead didn’t play for the Trojans in 2011 because the school would not medically clear him, but he still entered the 2012 draft, hoping teams would remember the potential of his first three seasons and not the medical incident that ended his playing career at USC.
But he didn’t get a phone call through seven rounds of the draft, didn’t get a phone call to sign as an undrafted rookie.
“It was frustrating to see my parents’ reaction to the whole thing,” Armstead said. “For me, I always had hoped that whatever God had for me would work out and that would be it, but my parents got really upset and it upset me to see them upset. I was fine with it, I figured I had a long road ahead of me.’’
His road took him to the Canadian Football League and the Toronto Argonauts for the 2012 season. At 6 feet 5 inches, 300 pounds, he is oversized for the Canadian game, but Armstead helped the Argos win the Grey Cup and was named to the East All-Star team.
And now his road has brought him to New England; he signed a three-year deal in January, choosing the Patriots over the Colts and Eagles, who had shown strong interest in the versatile lineman.
“I just feel like this organization has a lot to offer; just the way they’re run, professional style of business, the winning, I’m always interested in playing for winning teams,” Armstead said. “I just felt like this was the best fit for me and best opportunity, so I decided to come here.”
He is one of 28 players in New England’s rookie minicamp this weekend, though as a free agent signee, he already has been taking part in the offseason workout program and getting into his playbook.
Asked if he considers himself a rookie, he laughs and quips, “I don’t know what to call myself.” But this is his first year in the NFL, so he knows his official status.
He’s made it through one season of football after his heart attack, and he’s been put through exacting physicals by the Patriots.
“My health is fine. I haven’t had any problems since what happened at SC and I’ve been healthy; [last year] I didn’t miss any games or any practices, I haven’t had any issues,” he said. “We just went through physicals. I’m healthy.”
He does have to talk to the cardiologist “more than a normal person would,” but there is nothing extra in Armstead’s day-to-day life he has to tend to.
Despite the way his time at USC ended, and with his lawsuit pending, Armstead still has fond memories of his time as a Trojan.
“I could never be disappointed in my time at USC,” he said. “I got my degree, I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in this world. I had a great college experience, so when I look back at USC, it’s only good memories.”
His road is continuing in Foxborough, and onto the Gillette Stadium field, where he met with reporters Friday afternoon, ready for whatever lies ahead.
“I feel like the experiences I’ve had during my life — I wouldn’t say it’s a chip on my shoulder but I don’t take anything for granted,” Armstead said. “I approach work every day and I appreciate everything that I’m given a lot more. I’m not angry at anybody, but I want to show everyone what I can do.”