JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ryquell Armstead drew motivation from everyone around him while dealing with a COVID-ravaged season in 2020. The possibility of facing one question from his young son may have been the most powerful:
Why are you not playing football?
“Being able to never tell my son, ‘Well, I had a heart injury and I never came back and tried,’” Armstead said. “That was my inspiration right there, to be able to one day tell my son that you can overcome anything in life itself. I’m living proof.”
Armstead spent all last season on the COVID-19 list, first landing there in early August after testing positive when the Jacksonville Jaguars reported for training camp. He was later hospitalized with respiratory issues and eventually diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall.
He wasn’t allowed to do anything physical for eight months. Football was an afterthought. Health and family became top priorities. He spoke publicly about his ordeal for the first time Thursday.
“I realized health is wealth,” he said. “A lot of people say you don’t cherish health until something happens to you. ... I found who’s close and who loves me.”
His parents came down from New Jersey for six months. His kids, ages 5 and 1, were around all the time.
“I got to enjoy my family,” he said. “It was a blessing in disguise. I got to relax. I got to sit back and enjoy my family, enjoy my kids, just do what they want to do. Be a dad. Just not take anything for granted. I cherish every moment now, and when it was time for me to step up out of my comfort zone and get back to where I need to be, I took that step.”
He’s about to take another big step on his road to a full recovery.
The Jaguars (2-12) signed Armstead off Green Bay’s practice squad Wednesday, guaranteeing him a spot on the team’s 53-man roster for the final three weeks of the season. He replaces Carlos Hyde, who was placed on injured reserve with a concussion.
The move reunites Armstead with the team that drafted him in the fifth round out of Temple in 2019 and cut him a year later.
Armstead insists he has no hard feelings toward Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke and is looking forward to the opportunity to get in a game for the first time in nearly two years when the Jaguars play at the New York Jets (3-11) on Sunday.
“It’s a business. I understand my injury caused that. It was nothing I did. It was nothing I could do,” said Armstead, who managed 252 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns as a rookie playing behind Leonard Fournette in 2019. “I know I’m an awesome football player. I know I’m explosive. I know I’m powerful. I know what I bring.
“It took me a couple months to get back to feeling myself, just weight-wise, explosive, lifting-wise. You got to understand, I didn’t lift in eight, nine months. I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t physically. Just to get back is a blessing.”
Once Armstead was cleared to start working out again, he was in the gym every day by himself at 6 a.m. He got in good enough shape to play, but just never got the chance. Instead, he sat back and learned all he could from fellow running backs Alvin Kamara (New Orleans) and Aaron Jones (Green Bay).
“I had a goal. I had a vision. I had an endgame,” he said. “And this was the endgame. I’m here. I’m back on a 53 roster. I’m back active and I’m blessed. My mental is so strong that none of this fazed me. I just keep going.”
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