Just a few months ago Max Starks wasn't sure if he would be back in Heinz Field this year, back in the black and gold he has proudly worn since the Steelers drafted him in 2004.
He was coming off a serious neck injury and a month into the regular season the free agent wasn't signed.
But a phone call from the Steelers changed all of that and life was back to normal for Starks. Not only was he fully recovered from surgery, but the Steelers re-signed him and he was back in the starting lineup that same week.
His ability to overcome that kind of adversity is why his teammates voted him the Steelers 2011 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, presented annually to a Steelers player who has fought back from an injury or tough situation to return to the field.
"It's a big honor," said Starks. "It's voted on by your teammates. Any time your peers recognize your work and the adversity you went through to overcome it to get back to playing it's an awesome feeling."
Starks was presented with the award on Tuesday by Coach Mike Tomlin at the Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. Courage House Luncheon at Heinz Field, an event that benefits Holy Family Institute.
"As we sit here today we are a little over 12 months removed from Max Starks having neck surgery," said Tomlin. "And when I say neck surgery I mean cervical fusion surgery. If you have been in this business any length of time like I have, you have run across several instances where that quite frankly is career ending. It's nothing short of amazing, but not surprising when you know Max and how he attacks things, adversity, the game of football, life. This guy is a shining example for our young people both on the field and off. He embraces what it is to be a Pittsburgh Steeler both on the field and in our community.
"Not only is he back playing, but he is playing at a high level. He is one of the reasons that quite frankly we are a team in the mix as we push into the second half of the season."
With some of his teammates sitting in front of him, including many of the offensive linemen, Starks proudly accepted the award, knowing the road wasn't an easy one, but one he didn't back down from.
"Looking back at what award means, to know what I have been through it's not that big of a deal. It's life," said Starks. "You attack adversity and you either decide to let it consume you or overcome it. Coming from the family I come from, you always overcome it. There is no obstacle too great. I appreciate being honored for it. I am always going to continue to work and try to better myself and those around me."
Also honored at the luncheon was Quinton Williams, a Holy Family Institute alumnus that overcame the odds and is now a Paramedic Crew Chief with Munhall Area Prehospital Services.
"I am humbled and happy to be up here with Quinton," said Starks. "To know what he has overcome to get where he is at, it's a shining accomplishment for our youth. That is one of the things we always try to strive for as adults, to affect the generations coming after us because they are the future leaders of tomorrow."