Nick Collins rode an emotional roller coaster of an offseason.
First he celebrated the birth of his third child in April, adding a baby brother to a family that already included one son and daughter.
But then that close-knit family had to deal with the loss of Collins' father, Willie, who succumbed to a three-year battle with prostate cancer in May. Willie Collins had been a tremendous influence on Nick's football career, and the two were as close as any father and son could be.
All those family responsibilities contributed to Collins' staying at home in Florida throughout most of the team's voluntary offseason workout program. There were media reports that Collins was also looking for a new contract, and was staging a mini-protest by skipping voluntary team activities.
But he did return for a week during spring workouts and again for the three-day mandatory mini-camp to conclude the offseason program, and despite lots of questions as to whether he would fall behind in the transition to the new 3-4 defense, Collins hit the ground running in training camp and hasn't looked back.
Having followed up a Pro Bowl season in 2008 with another one of his finest years, Collins has been voted by his teammates as the Packers' Ed Block Courage Award winner for 2009.
"I appreciate my teammates voting for me," Collins said. "It means a lot of respect. I think it was a close one between me and Charles (Woodson). Knowing my situation this offseason, coming back to play for the Packers was a blessing."
The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is an NFL-supported charity dedicated to recognizing courage and annually bestows an award to a player from each NFL team who, in the eyes of his teammates, exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage.
Collins credited his teammates for helping him get through the rough patch in the offseason after his father passed away. Fellow defensive back Tramon Williams said a few guys were checking in with him on occasion, but giving him his space at the same time.
Collins truly appreciated that and felt he was able to process all the emotional issues before football needed to be his primary concern.
"Talking to my teammates, they just let me know that everything was going to be all right, and whenever you feel like you're ready to come in, we're here and we have your back," Collins said. "That was a plus for me. When I came in for training camp, I put all that beside me and just focused on football."
With one game left in the regular season, Collins has 51 tackles this season (44 solo) with six interceptions, one sack and one fumble recovery. His six interceptions, one off his career-high set last year, rank second on the team to Woodson's eight and tied for fifth in the league.
Equally impressive is how he has continued to play through various nicks and ailments, rarely missing a practice and certainly not a game. Collins has missed only three games, all in 2007, during his five-year career while being one of the most aggressive and hardest-hitters on the defense.
"It seemed like every game he used to go down, like he would get hurt, but he always came back," Williams said. "He always came back in that game, and the next week after and after. The bumps and bruises, they take their toll."
But it's noticed when a teammate's play doesn't suffer as a result.
"Definitely Nick has had some bumps and bruises along the way," said Woodson, who knows a thing or two about playing hurt. "I don't want to name them, but he's had some injuries, and he's just gone out there and performed, and performed well. He's one of the best in the game, and when you can go out and perform at a high level even being hurt, that says a lot about you."
A quiet guy by nature, Collins shows leadership in both the way he plays and the fact that he always does whatever it takes to play. Collins gives many thanks to the training and medical staff for their efforts on his behalf, and teammates appreciate the presence he brings to the defense.
"Every guy in here is looking for that guy who is doing it the right way but going the extra mile," Collins said. "I try to present myself as a guy that's going to do whatever it takes to help this team win, and that's how I approach every day."
That approach helped him get through a difficult offseason and continue to perform at a high level this season, as the vote of his teammates acknowledged.
"There were a few guys that knew what was going on, but a situation like that, guys keep it kind of close to the vest and deal with it in their own way," Woodson said. "He handled it the best you can handle it in those types of situations, and he's come in and had an incredible year."