Jason Kelce has worked incredibly hard to come back from a devastating knee injury. In Week 2 of last season, Kelce tore the MCL and partially tore the ACL in his right knee, and though the road to recovery was a difficult one, he fought his way back to the football field. Through a grueling rehabilitation process, Kelce kept his head down and remained focused on coming back better than ever. Not only has the Eagles center rebounded to play every snap in 13 games this season, but he's resumed his role as the anchor of the offensive line.
On Tuesday, the Eagles' bearded leader had his efforts recognized by his teammates, as it was announced that Kelce had won the 2013 Ed Block Courage Award, as voted by his fellow Eagles.
Given out by all 32 NFL teams each year, the Ed Block Courage Award honors those players who exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Recipients are selected in a vote by their teammates for team effort as well as individual performance.
"Obviously, it's a tremendous honor," Kelce said on Tuesday. "I feel like the guys who get it usually have a lot of respect from their teammates because it's voted on by the players. It's in terms of that where I really feel the best about it - that guys respect me enough to understand that this was a rough offseason for me and obviously they voted for me for that reason."
Kelce isn't one to boast or brag about personal achievements, but his teammates were more than willing to explain just how much Kelce's presence, both in the locker room and on the field, has meant to this team.
According to quarterback Nick Foles, Kelce's leadership qualities, along with some of his physical features, make it difficult to remember that he is only in his third NFL season.
"If you met him, you would think this is his 11th or 12th, just from the way he carries himself," Foles said of his center. "He's a veteran, and that beard makes him look a little older. With the injury that he had last year, he was looking for a big year. He was making all of the calls and he's really the heart and soul of that offensive line. It all starts with him."
Foles also highlighted how Kelce took time out of his rehab to help the rest of the offensive line during a difficult 2012 campaign. Even though he couldn't physically be out on the field with his teammates, Kelce couldn't help but coach his fellow linemen.
"(It was great) just to see how he handled it and how he was still motivating the guys when he was injured last year," Foles explained."You could see that if he was with the offensive linemen he would try to help them, he would try to make the calls with them, he would help (former center) Dallas (Reynolds). I got to see him go through his injury and rehab in the training room, rehab in the weight room, and just see him come back stronger than ever."
Kelce has without a doubt set an example for a number of players on the Eagles roster, but his efforts have made perhaps the largest impact with his fellow offensive linemen, such as right tackle Lane Johnson, who's learned a lot from the center during his rookie season.
"He's been a great friend, on and off the field," said the Eagles' first-round pick. "He's the guy that's always pushing. I know that he came back from a knee injury, and I know that was a setback for him, but I think it's a testament to how hard he works, and I think that's the reason why he won the award. He exemplifies it week in and week out, and he's really helped me along this year. He talked to me about his rookie year and how it's just a growing experience. He's been a lot of help for me."
Unlike Johnson, starting guards Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis have a combined 18 years of NFL experience under their belts. Yet, the two guards have the utmost respect for the much younger man in the middle.
"It just shows how hard he works," said Herremans. "He put in a lot of time this offseason and coming back off of a knee injury like that is extremely hard. He put in the hours and he was very determined from the get-go when it happened that he was going to come back stronger and better than he was before, and I think that's been showing all year long."
"It's hard to compare Jason Kelce to anyone else in this league, as far as what he does as a center," Mathis added. "He's like the quarterback of the offensive line. He can recognize stunts, blitzes, tendencies and he's an incredible communicator. He is the absolute best at keeping us all on the same page and keeping us going in the right direction."
For everything that the third-year pro from the University of Cincinnati has done on the field, he has been just as important to the Eagles away from the game of football. Just ask Foles, who best summed up the kind of person who Kelce is.
"He's a great friend of mine," said Foles. "I know him personally and I love the dude to death. Just to see where he is right now, I'm really proud of him and there couldn't be a better guy for the award."