If there is anything to know about Arik Armstead, it would be that he’s a proud Sacramento native doing incredible community work to uplift the very place he grew up. Most recently, he’s done that through the Armstead Academic Project, where he recently donated $250,000 to Mercy Housing to start after-school programs for local students. In addition, throughout his professional career, Armstead has sought out opportunities to give back and connect with other locals making an impact on the 916.
That was the case for 20-year-old Kevin Grey (@_k.prxd1gy_ on Instagram), who also calls Sacramento home. Grey is a custom shoe designer, hand-painting kicks of all kinds. From Nike Air Force 1s and Blazers, Jordan 1s, and Vans, you name it; Grey can do it. The same goes for his designs. Whatever his clients come up with, he takes a stab at.
“My biggest goal for all my customers is that [the shoes] look like they just came out of a store or a factory,” said Grey.
So when it came time for the annual “My Cause My Cleats” week, Armstead had a creator for those cleats in mind: none other than fellow Sac native Grey. Grey’s cousin connected him with Armstead’s team to get the project done, and Grey was stunned.
“I just remember her telling me that a football player for the 49ers wanted me to paint shoes,” said Grey. “I was like, ‘Huh?’ And she said it was Arik Armstead. ”
Grey was excited to take his work to the NFL just three years into turning his art into a business — especially for a player who knows and appreciates their hometown.
“I went to Emeryville for Afro Comic-Con,” said Grey. “There were some vendors, and there was this guy painting shoes. It was so cool because I had never seen anybody actually paint shoes before. It was a mind opener and blew me away.”
Grey had always been gifted at drawing but never picked up paint nor put his work on footwear. However, that trip to the convention inspired him to give it a go.
“I picked up my shoes, and I didn’t care if I messed them up or not,” said Grey. “I just started watching tutorial videos and painting my shoes. Surprisingly, they came out pretty good. I went to school with them on people were like, ‘Those are clean. Where did you get those shoes?’ I was like, ‘I did that.’ Ever since people just started coming in [asking] ‘Can you make me some shoes?’”
He goes by “Prodigy Customz” on Instagram (@prxdigy_customz), where he turns his clients’ vision into real, wearable art. Those clients 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 Grey to exchange a pair of Jordan 1-inspired cleats hoping Grey could transform them into a walking billboard for his foundation for “My Cause My Cleats.” It was an incredible opportunity to put Grey’s work on the map, but it was certainly no cakewalk to get the job done. First, he only had about a week to complete the project.
“I was trying to figure out how I was going to do this. I was like, ‘you know what, let me just do some research. Let me figure out you things that would really surprise him, things that he’ll like’ and I put all that stuff together.” said Grey.
It involved plenty of trial and error along the way. When Armstead’s team gave the cleats to Grey, they were bright blue, black, and white. Grey wasn’t sure if that color combination was the direction he wanted to go.
“First, they were red. Then they were black. Then I just pretty much just kept the color blue,” said Grey. “I put gold to represent the 49ers. To really represent Sacramento, I ended up putting the state capitol [on them], and I put the 916 on the shoe. Then also the Armstead Academic Project [logo].”
He added another surprise, but that reveal wouldn’t come until Armstead and Grey met up with the completed pair.
“As soon as I saw him, I was like, ‘This dude is huge,’” Grey said of the 6-foot-7, 290-pound defensive end. “My heart was racing because this was my first time meeting a football player and making shoes for him. So I was definitely nervous.”
Grey recorded a video of Armstead’s reaction, a memory he never wanted to forget. You can watch that video here.
“I threw a curveball in there,” said Grey. That curveball: Armstead’s daughter’s name — Amiri — etched on the heel.
To make the experience even more meaningful for Grey: his uncle and grandpa, who passed away, were die-hard and lifelong 49er fans. He knows they would be so proud.
“I just saw the excitement on his face. And I was like ‘this is a blessing.’” said Grey.
A blessing to Grey, a blessing to Armstead, and a reminder of the work seven-year veteran does to promote Sacramento businesses, organizations, and the community — and why he’s a nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year, too.