If there is anything to know about Arik Armstead, it would be that he is a proud native of Sacramento who does incredible community work to uplift the very place he grew up. Most recently, he did so as part of the Armstead University Project, where he recently donated $ 250,000 to Mercy Housing to start after-school programs for local students. Additionally, throughout his professional career, Armstead has sought opportunities to give back and connect with other locals impacting 916.
This was the case for 20-year-old Kevin Gray (@ _k.prxd1gy_ on Instagram), who also lives in Sacramento. Gray is a bespoke shoe designer, hand painting kicks of all kinds. From Nike Air Force 1s and Blazers, Jordan 1s and Vans, you name it; Gray can do it. The same goes for his creations. Whatever his clients offer, he tries it out.
âMy biggest goal for all my clients is that [the shoes] they look like they just rolled out of a store or a factory, âGray said.
So when it came time for the annual “My Cause My Cleats” week, Armstead had a designer in mind for these cleats: none other than his compatriot Gray, who was born in Sac. Grey’s cousin put him in touch with the Armstead team to complete the project, and Gray was stunned.
âI just remember her telling me that a 49ers football player wanted me to paint shoes,â Gray said. “I was like, ‘Huh? And she said it was Arik Armstead. ”
Gray was thrilled to bring his job to the NFL in just three years to turn his art into a business, especially for a player who knows and appreciates his hometown.
âI went to Emeryville for Afro Comic-Con,â Gray said. âThere were vendors, and there was this guy who painted shoes. It was so cool because I had never seen anyone paint shoes before. It opened my mind and blew me away.
Gray had always been good at drawing but had never taken paint or put his work on shoes. However, this trip to the convention inspired him to give it a go.
âI picked up my shoes, and I didn’t care if I messed them up or not,â Gray said. âI just started watching video tutorials and painting my shoes. Surprisingly, they did pretty well. I went to school with them on people who said, âThese are clean. Where did you get those shoes? ‘ I was like, ‘I did this.’ Since people just started to walk in [asking] “Can you make me shoes?” ”
He’s called âProdigy Customzâ on Instagram (@prxdigy_customz), where he turns his clients’ vision into real, wearable art. These customers include friends, family, and people who find him on social media. But not professional athletes – until very recently.
Arik Armstead’s team met up with Gray to swap a pair of Jordan 1-inspired cleats in hopes Gray could turn them into a traveling billboard for his foundation for “My Cause My Cleats.” It was an incredible opportunity to put Grey’s work on the map, but it certainly wasn’t a cinch to get the job done. First, he only had about a week to complete the project.
âI was trying to figure out how I was going to do this. I was like, ‘you know what, just let me do some research. Let me find you things that would really surprise him, things that he will love ‘and I put it all together. said Gray.
It involved a lot of trial and error along the way. When the Armstead team gave Gray the studs, they were bright blue, black and white. Gray wasn’t sure this color combination was the direction he wanted to go.
âFirst, they were red. Then they were black. Then I pretty much kept the color blue, âGray said. âI put in gold to represent the 49ers. To truly represent Sacramento, I ended up putting the state capital [on them], and I put the 916 on the shoe. Then also the academic project of Armstead [logo]. ”
He added another surprise, but that reveal wouldn’t happen until Armstead and Gray met the full pair.
âAs soon as I saw him I was like, ‘This guy is huge,’â Gray said of the 6-foot-7, 290-pound defensive end. âMy heart was racing because it was the first time I had met a soccer player and made him shoes. So I was definitely nervous.
Gray recorded a video of Armstead’s reaction, a memory he never wanted to forget. You can watch this video here.
âI threw a curve ball in there,â said Gray. This curved ball: the name of Armstead’s daughter – Amiri – engraved on the heel.
To make the experience even more meaningful for Gray: His uncle and grandfather, who passed away, were die-hard and long-time fans of the 49er. He knows they would be so proud.
âI just saw the excitement on his face. And I was like ‘this is a blessing.’ Said Gray.
A blessing for Gray, a blessing for Armstead, and a reminder of the work a seven-year veteran does to promote Sacramento businesses, organizations and the community – and why he’s also nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year.