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Ryan Grigson

New Colts general manager Ryan Grigson speaks during a press conference at the team's headquarters last year.

WEST LAFAYETTE | The term “mental toughness” in sports today is so often watered down.

If you're going to praise someone for being a beacon in times of turmoil, better do your homework on the individual and make sure it's well deserved.

Ryan Grigson fits that category like a tailored tux.

The Highland grad and second-year general manager of the Colts is no stranger to adversity.

Grigson returned to Purdue, his alma mater, on Monday night to receive the Drew Brees' Mental Toughness Award given to a college or professional athlete who exemplified mental attitude and toughness while competing within the counties covered by the National Football Foundation's Northwest Indiana chapter.

Former Purdue basketball star Robbie Hummel of Valparaiso was last year's recipient, and you know what he went through with two major knee surgeries.

“It's obviously a very flattering day for myself and my family,” said Grigson, married and the father of five children. “It's Purdue. It's Northwest Indiana. It's the Colts and that makes it even more special.”

Grigson's rags to riches story is compelling.

He played football at Purdue from 1991-1994, survived a near-fatal kidney injury his sophomore season, was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals but a back injury cut his NFL career short.

When you love something like Grigson loves football and are a keen judge of talent, you can't stay away — and he didn't — scouting in the Canadian and Arena football leagues, then moving up the executive ladder with the St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles.

During his 13 years in the NFL, Grigson has been an integral part of teams that made the playoffs on nine occasions, including three Super Bowls.

His near-death experience as a Purdue player prepared him for adversity's best shots.

“When you're 20 years old, you're 290 pounds, you can run and you can bench press and squat a lot of weight ... you don't feel like anything can happen to you. The (injury) took all that away," Grigson said.

“It was a life-threatening injury and they said if I wasn't 20 years old, I wouldn't be here. My youth is what really kept me alive because I was young and in such good shape.”

Grigson was in intensive care for two weeks. Mental toughness was his roommate and it wasn't leaving.

“By the grace of God, the next season, I was 315 pounds, as strong as I've ever been in my life, and probably played the best football of my career my junior year,” Grigson said.

Despite his success, Grigson remains remarkably humble and grateful but it's always been his way.

“That's what makes this (award) so special. If you keep on truckin' and seeing things through, at the end of the day you usually get rewarded,” he said.

Monday had a strong region connection with Griffith's Austin Brown and Lowell's Spenser Kersey honored as finalists for the NFF “Student-Athlete Award” and Jamie Marsh, wife of Munster coach Leroy Marsh, receiving the Arnette Tiller “Service To Football Award.”

But the night belonged to Grigson, who took a miserable 2-14 Colts team and turned it into an 11-5 playoff team his first season while Coach Chuck Pagano watched from the sidelines, battling cancer.

It earned Grigson NFL Executive of the Year honors.

“I just got to Indy 16 months ago and I wish I could have 50 people up there (on stage) with me when I accept this honor,” Grigson said before the program.

“Without their help, no way would I be here. No way would I be the GM of the Colts.”

I trust all of Indiana is thrilled he is.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at