Football: Highland’s Ryan Grigson among NWI honorees at NFF banquet
By Brian Peloza Post-Tribune correspondent June 10, 2013 11:36PM
Updated: July 12, 2013 6:38AM
WEST LAFAYETTE — Ryan Grigson has never had things particularly easy in his life, losing his father as a young boy.
He later battled a life-threatening illness as a sophomore football player at Purdue that put him in the hospital for weeks after a hit he took in a game against Minnesota.
Those struggles tested Grigson, but never broke the Highland graduate, who is entering his second season as general manager of the Indianapolis Colts and was last year’s NFL Executive of the Year.
Grigson was recognized for his journey on Monday, recipient of the Drew Brees Mental Toughness Award during the annual honors dinner of the National Football Foundation.
“If you keep on trucking, keep working at things, and see things through,” Grigson said, “then at the end of the day then you usually get rewarded if you work hard enough.”
Essentially growing up with his father, who passed away, Grigson missed out on the bonding most young kids have playing sports; something he realized in recent years watching his own children playing sports.
With that being said, Grigson takes pride in earning what he has achieved in life.
“Everything I’ve ever gotten has had to be on my own,” Grigson said. “In high school I was not a finished product. I always believed in my heart I could play. I had the raw skill set to play but didn’t quite get things figured out as a whole. I worked really hard but I didn’t reach the type of mindset or maturity level until I got it beaten in my head at Purdue.”
While he matured at Purdue, it was almost the place where he died. During a game against Minnesota during the 1992 season Grigson took a hit to his abdomen, which led to pancreatitis, kidney failure and pneumonia.
“I just knew from the get-go I was not invincible,” Grigson said. “You can run, bench press a lot of weight, squat a lot of weight and put in all of the hours to be a starter early in your college career — it makes you feel like nothing can happen to you ... It was a life threatening injury. They said if I wasn’t 20 years old I wouldn’t be here.”
A sturdy 300-pound man became 30 pounds lighter and was barely able to lift a bench press bar, even without weight.
“Not even 135,” Grigson said. “I’m messing around with the bar when I had been doing 400 pounds-plus before. I don’t know if I would be where I am as a person if I had not had those things happen to me because it made me stop and think.”
“From a spiritual standpoint I had an awakening when the doctors and nurses told me what the outcome could have been. It made me dig down deep and figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”
After a brief playing career in the NFL and CFL was cut short due to a back injury, Grigson became a scout in the CFL and an assistant coach in the Arena League. He later became an NFL scout in the late 1990s, working his way up to director of player personnel for Philadelphia in the NFL in 2010; becoming the Colts’ GM two years later.
The annual NFF Honors Dinner recognized several local residents, though one honoree — Lowell’s Spenser Kersey — was absent, but with a good reason: He was giving a Lowell High School commencement speech on Monday as the school’s valedictorian.
Griffith’s Austin Brown was in attendance, and along with Kersey, was one of six candidates for the chapter’s Scholar Athlete of the Year Award, won by Carroll’s Ryan Spesard.
“In elementary school my parents taught me to get good grades and it just carried over into high school,” said Brown, who had a 4.22 grade point average on a 4.0 scale, scoring a 1760 on the SAT. “It just seemed natural because of what my parents had me do in elementary school. I just had to do whatever I had to do to get As in my classes. Doing schoolwork every night was tough, and studying, but if it’s important you’ll find a way to fit it in and get it done.”
The Arnette Tiller Service to Football Award was presented to Jamie Marsh of Munster, press box coordinator and media liaison for the football program; while helping coordinate and support several charitable causes.