Initially, Terron Armstead became a leader because of sacrifice.
No New Orleans Saints player proved more willing to play with injury – often, with limited practice and very effectively – or return more quickly from surgery than the talented left tackle. His drive stemmed from a desire to be there with "my guys," not to let them down, to be available.
Now, entering his seventh NFL season, it's due to past sacrifice and present performance. Because Armstead is among the best in the business at what he does, and he knows he'll have to be that again this season for the Saints, who are preparing for their season opener on Monday night against Houston in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
From Arkansas Pine-Bluff to NFL All-Pro has been a steep, steady climb for Armstead, who has started at left tackle every game he has played since moving into the lineup for good in the next-to-last regular season game of his rookie season, 2013.
"It's been a long road, it's been a journey," he said. "A fun journey. Extremely blessed to be in one organization for going on seven years now, especially being in this organization with stability from the top.
"But it's just been a constant grind. Coming from a small school – Pine Bluff – into the level of competition at practice every day was probably the biggest shock factor, that you've got to bring it at such a high level every day. It's been a constant grind, daily progression, just trying to improve and I don't think that will ever stop until I hang the cleats up."
It's working. Armstead produced several top-tier seasons before being named All-Pro for the first time in 2018, despite playing just 10 regular-season games.
"I definitely step on the field to try to be the best," he said. "That's what I'm pretty sure everybody is working for, to try to be the best at their position.
"I want to be the best at my job in the world. That's a goal to strive for every year. Every day, really. And getting some notoriety last year was great, but I just want to win, man. Win games."
This year's team is one that is built to do just that. It's a trendy pick to make a Super Bowl run.
"I think we have the team," Armstead said. "I think we've got the guys, the makeup, to do so. But you go talk to the 31 other teams, I don't think any team is going to tell you, 'We're built to lose.'
"Everybody felt like coming out of camp, we were working our butt off and it's time to go win. The game's not played on paper. I think that's something we understand and prepare for, that we've got to go out and execute."
On the offensive line, that execution is led by Armstead. He's the longest-tenured offensive lineman for New Orleans, the player who knows how to explain where the bar is set.
"We've got a 'Saints Way,' " he said. "We've got a way we do things – a lot of things. Great attitude, high energy, high tempo – that's kind of how we move around here.
"It happened fast. I'm 28 now, Year Seven, and it's happened fast. But it's a blessing."