METAIRIE, La. -- Somehow Terron Armstead forgot what this humidity felt like.
The New Orleans Saints' left tackle has primarily been training in Dallas during the coronavirus pandemic. But he returned to New Orleans during this late-June weekend, and one of his first stops was the open-air gym where he has added intense boxing workouts to his routine over the past few years.
"I enjoy it. But I wouldn't say I love it," Armstead said with a laugh, joking that he didn't think he was going to make it through the hour-long training session on a particularly steamy day.
He's still thrilled to be here, complaining about a little sweat and exhaustion. It's much better than what he described as those "dark days" in previous offseasons when he traveled the country, and even went to Germany, visiting various specialists to try to get his hip and knee healthy.
"Man, I'm good. I'm running and jumping like I'm about to get ready for the combine," boasted Armstead, who has been tackling everything he can at the highest level this offseason, despite working under pandemic restrictions.
Later the same day, he'll head to a studio in uptown New Orleans to record the latest track for his first full rap album. And for the past few months, the Saints' reigning Man of the Year winner has also been working with his sister and others to open the first Team Armstead Community Center in his hometown of Cahokia, Illinois.
Armstead, who turns 29 this month, is starting to get the widespread recognition he deserves on the field, too. A third-round draft steal from Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 2013, he was named second-team All-Pro for the first time in 2018. He was selected to his first two Pro Bowls in 2018 and 2019. And he ranked fifth among NFL offensive tackles in ESPN's poll of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players. It's no coincidence the Saints have finished 13-3 in each of the past two seasons.
But if you somehow expected Armstead to rest now that he's glimpsed the mountaintop, well, you don't know him very well.
"He takes on a lot. You know, one of his songs he says, 'Gotta get it, gotta get it.' So that's exactly what he does. That's just him," said Armstead's sister, Kimiante Brown, who isn't surprised to see him tackle so many projects in addition to being the father of twin 7-year-old girls and a 3-year-old boy.
"I always expected Terron to be Terron. And to say that is to know him, know his heart, his personality," said Brown, who is older by three years. "Whatever career he was going to be in, I knew he was going to be successful."
Armstead credits the great team around him, from family and friends to his financial adviser. He said his sister has "really been the MVP" for how much work she has put into the community center. But he didn't shortchange himself, saying, "I got capacity. I can handle this, handle that. You make stuff happen, man."
Obviously, he also has an enormous amount of drive.
"I mean, why not? Why not? We gotta live while we're here," Armstead said. "I've always been like, 'God gives us our talent.' And I feel like if we don't use it it's disrespectful to him.
"For the longest time, I didn't really want people to hear my music. But I feel like it's a talent of mine, it's a gift, so I gotta use it. And I gotta use my athletic ability to the max, to become the best player I can be, because it's the talent pool that [God] gave me. So that's the thought process behind it."
'Changing the environment'
Armstead and Brown didn't have a specific blueprint for the Terron Armstead Foundation when they started it during his second NFL season. They just knew they wanted to give back to communities such as Cahokia -- which borders East St. Louis, a city known for some of the country's highest crime and poverty rates.
They started with things like Thanksgiving food drives, Christmas toy giveaways, back-to-school backpack giveaways, winter coat drives and a football camp that grew to include more than 700 kids last summer before the pandemic forced them to take a year off.
But Armstead and Brown always had a greater vision for the foundation. And they saw its future when the old Cahokia bowling alley went up for auction. ... Well, they eventually saw it.
"I bought it without much of a plan," said Armstead, who said the $27,000 price seemed too good to pass up until they got inside and saw how much work was needed to spruce the place up.
"I was ready to turn around once we walked in. Like, I wanted the money back," Brown said.
Now, after months of renovations led by their cousin's contracting company, the Team Armstead Community Center is about 85% complete with plans to open in the fall.
View this post on Instagram
🗣ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER!! Team Armstead Community Center 💙 It's time to actually start turning our words into reality! Too often, we get caught up in ranting and being so outspoken on social media or in the media in general, and we think that just doing that is enough! But when the tough questions and situations come up, are we really dedicating our time, resources, and efforts??? That silence becomes so loud‼️If you want to get involved in making the world around you better, you will GET INVOLVED! The Team Armstead Community Center, located in Cahokia, IL is a 40,000 sq. ft. facility that will be a home-base to soooo many brilliant minds, young entrepreneurs and leaders. EDUCATION is our main focus! Our goal is to provide opportunities for every one who steps through our doors to gain knowledge in real life experiences that many of us don't necessarily learn in school, including financial literacy, credit and taxes, trades, etc. This community center isn't an investment opportunity!! I have personally funded every aspect of building and establishing the center up to this point! We are not in it to make money, we are in it for what it can do for others!! "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" - Nelson Mandela 🤔 The center is roughly two months away from completion! Everyone is super excited about the jobs it will create, the relationships it will build, and the atmosphere of it all!! Can't wait for you guys to see the finished product! 🙌🏾
The center will focus heavily on education, with curriculums set up for students from pre-K through high school and various rooms sponsored by past and present teammates such as Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram II, Drew Brees and Marcus Williams. But it will provide much more.
"I hope that it can be a safe haven. And whatever you need help with at that time, I hope we can be that for the community," Brown said. "Whether you need someone to talk to, if you just need resources trying to help you find a job, if a kid needs help with his homework, it can be a shelter in the winter, in can be a polling place during voting time."
Armstead described Cahokia as a low-income area with a lot of poverty, a lot of crime, but "a ton of potential."
He said he was lucky to avoid some of the more turbulent paths he saw others take, thanks to support from his family and his interest in sports. He also credited an internship program he did at the ages of 10 and 11, where he had to dress up in a tie and slacks and enjoyed working in an office setting.
Armstead later got his first job as a teenage counselor at the YMCA. And just last month, he wound up hiring the "amazing" woman that gave him that job to help run the community center.
"The vision is a place where people can come in and develop. Develop knowledge, skills," said Armstead, who also hopes to build a similar center in New Orleans. "There's nothing like that in the area. And I believe those will be the cornerstones of changing the environment, of getting people interested and excited about learning new things they never even thought about.
"And in the long run I see the next mayor coming from the Team Armstead Center. Or whatever, the next NFL player. Our first graduation class, I want it to be a class of exceptional men and women."
'No ghost writer around here'
The atmosphere in the music studio is decidedly more relaxed than the gym. Armstead and producer Abby Urbina take their time catching up and trash-talking over their prowess in the video game Call of Duty before getting started.
But Armstead isn't messing around. He's serious about his music. And Urbina insists he's seriously good at it -- not just "good for a football player." When Urbina first came up with the beat they're about to record, he immediately thought of Armstead and sent it to him.
As always, Armstead wrote the lyrics himself. "Ain't no ghost writer around here," he said.
Armstead has been rapping since high school, producing a few songs here and there -- sometimes with cameo appearances from Saints teammates like Ingram. But it wasn't until last year that he released a "mix tape" under the name T. Stead, with some of his songs being played in the Superdome before games.
When he started recording a new batch of songs this offseason in both New Orleans and Illinois, he decided to go all-in.
"I want to do one legit album and put it out for everybody to hear, everybody to check out my rap talent -- because I feel like I'm a talented artist. And I'm gonna have it done before training camp, then I won't touch any more music until the next offseason," said Armstead, who's aiming to have 12 songs on the album he's self-financing.
"I don't know how popular it will be, I don't know how big it will blow up or whatever. But every song on there will be really good. And people will get the chance to check it out -- and it might end up in their rotation."
'Making sure they keep up'
Of course, Armstead remains good at his day job, too.
His talent has been apparent for years. The 6-foot-5, 304-pounder holds the record for the fastest 40-yard dash by an offensive lineman at the NFL scouting combine (4.71 seconds). And he took over as the Saints' starting left tackle by the end of his rookie season.
What held Armstead back were those exasperating injuries -- a knee issue that plagued him from 2015-16, a hip flexor that kept tearing from 2016-17, a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the first four games of 2017 and a pectoral injury that kept him out for five games late in 2018.
But he earned just as much respect from teammates and coaches for playing through many of those injuries even in weeks when he didn't practice. Sean Payton said in 2015, "There's not a left tackle I would trade him for in the league." A year later, the Saints made him one of the NFL's highest-paid linemen with a five-year, $65 million extension.
"Those were dark days," Armstead said. "Rehabbing the whole offseason probably three years in a row. Flying here and doing this, getting this shot, going back under the knife to fix something they didn't really see the first time, going into the season with no practice. Challenging times."
But Armstead said his two biggest injuries -- the knee and the hip -- have been "no problem" the past two years. He credited Dr. Josh Sandell in Minnesota for helping the knee "tremendously" and fascial stretch therapist Patrick Brennan in Dallas for doing the same with his hip.
Armstead has been working with Brennan ever since he started working with noted offensive line guru Duke Manyweather in Dallas in 2018. He began boxing workouts, which he does with trainer Scott Musso, in 2015 both because it's great cardio and helps his footwork and hand technique.
"I feel great, man. I'm getting stronger, getting more durable, just learning more about the body -- and my body," said Armstead, who does pilates three times a week and the stretch therapy twice a week.
"I'm talking s--- to the young dudes [in Manyweather's program]. Dudes that are going into their rookie year -- I'm making sure they keep up."
Keep up with Armstead?
They've got their work cut out for them.