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Meester recognized for courage


For Brad Meester, the honors have to be bitter-sweet. Meester was recognized on Wednesday as the Jaguars' "Man of the Year" and "Ed Block Courage Award" winner, but this is a difficult year to celebrate.

"It's been tough, especially beginning with the spring and what happened back home. I wanted to play for the guys back home. Having the biceps tear was tough. To get back out on the field with my teammates means a lot," the Jaguars center said on Wednesday.

As the Jaguars' "Ed Block" candidate, Meester is being honored for his comeback in 2007 from a training camp ankle injury that caused him to miss the first four regular-season games. He returned to key a strong rushing attack that led the Jaguars to their first playoff win in eight years.

Considering all that's happened to Meester this season, he has to be the early favorite to win next year's Ed Block Award. Let's take a look back.

Meester's hometown of Parkersburg, Iowa, was devastated by a tornado last spring. His wife's family lost their home, leaving them to move in with Meester's family in a true show of Midwestern values. Meester then led a campaign to raise funds to benefit his high school alma mater, which was also blown down by the storm.

The bad times, however, were just beginning for Meester, who sustained a torn biceps in just the second day of training camp, causing Meester to miss the first six games of this season. He's back in the lineup, but he's also in the last year of his contract so he has to play with the uncertainty of his future in Jacksonville.

"My dad and uncle are the ones rebuilding it," Meester said of his in-laws' home. "They put the house up and then had to go back to the field to harvest the crop."

Meester said he and his wife will return to Iowa permanently – "I enjoy being out in the open space. I grew up on a farm and I want to get back to that for my kids," he said – when his playing career is complete, but he wants the final years of his life in the NFL to remain in Jacksonville.

"I would love to stay here. That's out of my control," he said.

Four "Man of the Year" finalists will be announced during the postseason. The winner will be announced on the field at the Super Bowl in Tampa and will receive a $25,000 donation.

Wednesday was back-to-work day for the Jaguars, who will host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The Vikings, 5-5, are tied with Green Bay and Chicago for the NFC North lead. The 4-6 Jaguars are largely playing for pride.

Coach Jack Del Rio talked to his team on Wednesday about maintaining a positive outlook and lightened the mood at his mid-day press conference. Asked how he was handling an abundance of criticism of the Jaguars' failures this year, Del Rio drew a laugh from reporters when he said, "The same way I handle all the praise you guys heap on me."

These are also tough times for Del Rio and quarterback David Garrard.

"Whenever you talk about the coach and quarterback, you talk about their won-lost record," Del Rio said.

Veteran running back Fred Taylor is another player battling to keep his chin up.

"All the way across the board it sucks," Taylor said. "My window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller, as far as a championship is concerned. This has been, statistically, the worst year I've ever had. I just want to finish strong. I hate to end on a loser's note."

Meester collected some winnings on Wednesday, even though it may not have felt that way.

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