CAHOKIA — Terron Armstead has always dreamed of what it would be like to be an NFL player.
The Cahokia High School graduate likely will find out Thursday or Friday when he is selected somewhere in the first three rounds of the 2013 NFL draft.
"It's always been a dream of mine," Armstead said. "I think any young football player has that dream. I always thought I was a pretty talented player, and when I got into college, I got some recognition as a pretty good left tackle and it started becoming reality.
"It's been a little bit longer of a road coming from a small school. I got my opportunities, and I did what I could with them."
Once considered a possible late-round pick, the Arkansas-Pine Bluff product's draft stock soared through standout performances at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl and then an eye-popping showing at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
"I believe I was kind of a sleeper coming out of Pine-Bluff," Armstead said. "I'm sure I surprised some people. I believe I opened up some eyes."
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Armstead, who is nicknamed "Terronnosaurus Rex,'' was clocked in 4.71 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, setting a record for offensive linemen.
He also had a vertical jump of 34.5 inches and a broad jump of 9-feet, 4-inches. His vertical jump ranked first and his broad jump ranked fourth among all the offensive linemen at this year's combine.
While NFL scouts were wowed, Armstead actually was disappointed with those numbers.
"I wanted to break the vertical record, and I missed that by an inch," Armstead said. "I also planned on running the 40 a little faster than that, so that was also disappointing."
Armstead said he ran faster when he was training at the Athletes Performance Institute in Florida before the combine.
"I clocked a 4.63 laser time," Armstead said. "That was the fastest time I have ever been recorded at."
Laying the foundation
Armstead, the son of Gretchell and Samuel Armstead, played on both the offensive and defensive lines for the Cahokia Comanches.
"He was a beast," Cahokia football coach Antwyne Golliday said of Armstead, whose dominance in the trenches as a senior helped the Comanches post an 11-2 record and advance to the semifinals of the Class 5A playoffs in 2005.
The Comanches outscored their opponents 444-194 that season.
Though he played on offense, Armstead considered himself first and foremost a defender.
"I've always been a defensive-driven guy, I've always loved defense," Armstead said. "Back in Cahokia, we had a stellar defense. If you were able to play on that defense, you had to be very good."
Armstead also excelled in throwing the shot put in track despite getting a late start in that sport.
"I tried to get him out for track his freshman and sophomore year, but he wasn't feeling it," Golliday said. "Then all of the sudden, his junior year he came out and he threw like 53 feet. Then his senior year, he threw 61 feet and he was state champion."
Armstead, who had a season-best throw of 61-0 1/4 at the St. Clair County Meet, tossed the shot put 57-7 inches on the final attempt of his high school career to win the state title.
Armstead was recruited by bigger schools for football, but Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which also happens to be Golliday's alma mater, was the only one that would let him compete in football and track.
"I definitely didn't plan on going to a school like Arkansas-Pine Bluff," Armstead said. "I planned on going somewhere a little bigger coming out of high school."
Armstead also didn't expect to be playing left tackle, but Arkansas Pine-Bluff coach Monte Coleman asked him to move from the defensive side to the offensive side of the line as a freshman.
"When I sent out highlight tape on him, he was playing defensive line," Golliday said. "He gets down to Pine Bluff, and coach called him one day during his freshman year and said he wanted him to move to offensive tackle.
"Naturally, he didn't want to make the move, but he made the move, and boom, he was their starting offensive tackle. (Coleman) doesn't look so dumb now."
Armstead appeared in 37 games at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, starting his final 32 contests at left tackle. He registered 314 knockdown blocks and 47 touchdown-resulting blocks.
He also was an eight-time champion for the Golden Lions' track and field team, though he had to forego competing his senior season to focus on football and the draft.
"This was a kid that gave you everything he had, even in the sprints," Golliday said. "I'm just hoping the best for him. He was a real good kid, an honor student. He had no discipline problems. He came from a good family. It couldn't happen to a better guy."
Feeling a draft
Armstead had 10 pre-draft visits and seven individual workouts with potential NFL teams, but he's unsure where he'll end up in the draft.
"Of course, any college football player wants to be a first-round draft pick," Armstead said. "Of course, I want to be a first-round draft pick. It's looking pretty good for me. The highest projection that I've heard is 18th overall (by the Dallas Cowboys). That would be great for me, but it's really unpredictable."
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has Armstead going to the Baltimore Ravens with the last pick (62nd overall) of the second round in his latest mock draft.
Armstead has the qualities that make him that rarest of gems -- a left tackle -- that every NFL team covets. He has quick enough feet to protect the blind side of a right-handed throwing quarterback.
"Everybody needs offensive tackles all the time," said Armstead's agent, Dave Butz II, of SporstStars Inc. "Look at all the starting offensive tackles in the league, especially left tackles. It's kind of a bad example because we're in St. Louis and they recently bucked the trend and signed a guy (Jake Long) who may be their starting left tackle, but by and large, almost every left tackle is a guy who is drafted by his team.
"The reason is that they are in such high demand, you draft them and when that contract is up, you pay them. You don't let them leave."
Butz is a Belleville East High School graduate and the son of former NFL star Dave Butz. He declined to say publicly where he thought Armstead was going to be drafted.
"I have been around the league from all sides," Butz said. "I interned with a team, I worked in the league office. I did a lot of things before I became an agent, and I've been doing this going on 13 years now.
"I've got a lot of contacts who are kind enough to share their information with us, and all I can really say is the sky is the limit. I think he can go as high as you want to guess."
Butz's agency has about 90 NFL clients, and he has witnessed this kind of meteoric rise in a player's draft stock before.
For example, there was University of Illinois offensive tackle Jeff Allen, who ended up being taken in the second round (44th overall pick) in last year's draft.
"He started the year with lower scouting grades than Terron," Butz said. "Coming into the year, a lot of people thought he was a late-round or undrafted free agent. He ended up going in the second round."
Butz said Armstead certainly has the talent to go that high in the draft.
"He has unlimited God-given ability, and on top of it, he works hard and he wants to succeed," Butz said. "It's a pleasure working with someone like Terron.
"Everybody says that about everybody, and I don't know how to express that it is the real deal with him. He's a good person."
The big day arrives
Armstead said he's gotten advice on what to expect as a rookie in the NFL from Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Roaf.
"He's a great guy," Armstead said of Roaf, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection as an offensive tackle with the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs. "He has been steering me in the right direction, letting me know what to expect. He's mainly been telling me about life things and the type of distractions that are going to be coming.
"And to make sure I take focus and how to manage my money. Be hungry and be humble. That's pretty much his motto."
Armstead said he was going to spend the draft hanging out with family members, including his 6-month-old twin daughters, Trinity and Tatiana.
"I'm going to have each one on my lap watching," Armstead said. "Both days I'll just be sitting and watching."
Golliday said Armstead will become the first Comanche player that he has coached to play in the NFL.
That's a legacy that Armstead wants to leave for young players who dream of playing professional football.
"That is definitely one of my aims," Armstead said. "To show the kids in Cahokia and the entire 618 (area code) that you can make it no matter what school you go to.
"The cream rises to the top, so if you work hard, it can happen."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.