PHILADELPHIA - Eagles safety Colt Anderson spent this season's training camp in a remote section of the practice fields at Lehigh University.
While thousands of fans crammed the stands each day to watch quarterback Michael Vick, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha prepare for the regular season, Anderson worked in solitude with head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder and his staff.
Anderson, who was considered the Eagles' best special-teams player last season, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee late last season in a game at Seattle. He missed all of training camp and the preseason while working to regain his agility, speed and strength in hopes of rejoining the team this season.
He wound up missing one game.
"I never doubted that I would be able to play again," Anderson said Thursday. "But there were some physical and mental doubts early on about whether I could be the same player I was before I got hurt. The training staff and my teammates made sure I stayed positive and that really helped me a lot."
Anderson's teammates rewarded him for his hard work and perseverance Thursday by selecting him as this season's winner of the Eagles' Ed Block Courage Award. Anderson will join the winners from the other 31 NFL teams at the national banquet in Baltimore on March 18.
The Ed Block Courage award was created in 1984 to recognize players who "exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage," according to the organization. Eagles tight end John Spagnola won the first award in 1984, followed by quarterback Ron Jaworski in 1985.
Recent Eagles winners include defensive tackle Mike Patterson (2011), wide receiver Jason Avant (2010), Vick (2009) and long snapper Jon Dorenbos (2008). Current defensive line coach Tommy Brasher share the award in 2001 with current special teams quality control coach and former running back Duce Staley in 2001.
"I was completely surprised when coach (Andy) Reid called my name today," Anderson said. "To be included in the same category as those guys, people who have been through adversity and overcome obstacles, is quite an honor for me."
They earned the award for different reasons. Patterson suffered a seizure in training camp in 2010 and came back to play the entire season. Avant overcame a rough upbringing in Chicago to become a top player. Vick joined the Eagles after serving 23 months in federal prison on dogfight-related charges. Dorenbos' father murdered his mother when he was 12.
Anderson was chosen because of his determination to return to the NFL after suffering his knee injury on Dec. 1, 2011 at Seattle.
"Colt is the epitome of what this award represents," Burkholder said Thursday in a statement. "He approached every day of his rehab process like it was game day. His intensity and passion and attention to detail allowed him to have such a quick and successful recovery, and I think that's something that inspires his teammates. Colt is a guy who has had to work extremely hard for everything he has achieved, and this is a well-deserved honor for him."
Anderson, 27, traveled a rocky road to the NFL.
The 5-foot-10, 194-pound native of Butte, Mont., was a walk-on at the University of Montana, where he was coached by former Eagles safety Tim Hauck. He earned a spot on Minnesota's practice squad in 2010 as an undrafted free agent before joining the Eagles midway through that season to bolster their special teams.
Anderson was voted the Eagles' special teams most valuable player last season despite missing the last four games with his knee injury. This season, he is the team's top special-teams performer, while also working his way into the starting lineup on defense.
Anderson will make his third straight start at safety against Washington on Sunday after registering 19 total tackles in the previous two games.
"When I first came here, I knew my role was as a special teams player," Anderson said. "But I was not satisfied with being just a special teams player and I'm not satisfied with being just a safety. I'm always striving to be the best I can be."
He was not supposed to reach this level.
The Eagles thought so little of Anderson's potential that they drafted safety Jaiquawn Jarrett (second round, 2011), signed free agent O.J. Atogwe last June and traded for David Sims in August.
Atogwe and Jarrett were cut at the end of the preseason. Sims started one game and is now a backup. Anderson started ahead of Kurt Coleman for two games and is replacing Nate Allen against the Redskins.
Anderson will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
"I don't worry about stuff I can't control," Anderson said. "I don't worry about who they bring in or who they draft, and I don't worry about my contract status. I always knew I could play at this level, and I just focus on proving that every day."
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