FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Stephen Neal has been selected by his Patriots teammates as the recipient of the 2007 Ed Block Courage Award. The honor is voted on by teammates and bestowed annually upon the player who best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration. Neal and award winners from 31 other teams will be honored at the 29th Annual Ed Block Courage Awards Banquet in Baltimore.
Neal, 31, originally joined the New England Patriots on July 23, 2001 as a world champion athlete who had not played football in six years, since his days at San Diego High School where he was a five-sport athlete. The star prep athlete matriculated to Cal State-Bakersfield, where he became one of the premier wrestlers in the nation. At CSUB, Neal set school records for career wins (156) and pins (71). In 1999, he completed a perfect season with a 44-0 record and set a school record with 31 pins. That year, he won his second consecutive NCAA Division I title and earned the Dan Hodge Award, known as the Heisman Trophy of college wrestling. He also won the U.S. Freestyle Championships, the Pan-American Games title and the World Championships before retiring from wrestling to pursue a professional football career with the New England Patriots.
He spent much of the 2001 season on the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad after the Patriots released him that preseason, but he was resigned to the Patriots' active roster on Dec. 12, 2001. Shoulder injuries in 2002 and 2003 thwarted his development. After seeing action in just two games in his first three seasons in professional football, Neal started 17 of 19 games, including all three playoff games for the Patriots in 2004 as the Patriots finished the year 17-2 as Super Bowl Champions. That year, Neal started on an offensive line that helped Corey Dillon to 1,635 yards rushing, a franchise single-season record.
Neal battled through shoulder injuries throughout the 2007 season, starting each of the eight regular season games in which he was active. After missing the last four regular season games, Neal was active and started each of the Patriots' playoff games, including Super Bowl XLII. Neal has now started each of the Patriots' last 11 playoff games.
The Ed Block Courage Award is named after Ed Block, a long-time head trainer for the Baltimore Colts and a respected humanitarian dedicated to helping children. Recipients are often players who have overcome devastating injuries or tragedies in their personal lives to return to top-level competition in the NFL.
Officially formulated in 1986, the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that is sanctioned by the NFL and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS). The Foundation is committed to heightening awareness of the plight of abused children in cities throughout the league. Proceeds from the annual Courage Awards event benefit the Foundation's Courage House National Support Network For Kids.