INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Colletto directed the fortunes of the Purdue football program from 1991-96, encountering a number of players along the way.
One of the players Colletto remembers well was a youngster from Highland, Indiana who started his career as a tight end before moving to offensive tackle.
Colletto recalls Ryan Grigson, the Colts' new general manager, with appreciation because he does so for all the right reasons.
"He's one of those stories as a coach you don't come across real often," said Colletto. "When we first got to Purdue, he was a player who really wasn't very good. As you kept working with him and pushing him, his work ethic was unbelievable. He did everything you asked him to do. He got better and better and better. We pushed him really hard, and he made himself a top-flight player."
Grigson was a short-yardage tight end in his first year at West Lafayette. He had two touchdown receptions – against Michigan State and Indiana – during the season.
Grigson was moved to the offensive line as a sophomore and started the first five games before an abdominal injury against Minnesota ended his season. The injury was severe enough that Grigson developed pancreatitis, kidney failure and pneumonia. He was hospitalized for five weeks, from late October to late November, and he dropped 30 pounds as a result of the injury.
Upon regaining his health, Grigson attacked again. He started 10 of 11 games as a junior. His example on and off the field was evident. He supplements his on-field play by earning the Most Improved Weightlifter Award for his efforts during the season.
Colletto noted the feelings teammates had for Grigson.
"The players had great respect for him," said Coletto. "I don't think there would be a player on the Purdue teams that he played on who doesn't have a lot of respect for Ryan. Then he had the injury he had to fight through when he got hurt against Minnesota and he was sick and in the hospital for a long, long time. He's persevered through a lot, and you won't find anyone who has a bad word for him, or who doesn't have respect for him."
One of those teammates who followed the example Grigson set was two years behind him. Fullback Mike Alstott, who went on to have an 11-year NFL career that included six Pro Bowl nominations and three All-Pro bids, feels Grigson helped make a big difference in the program.
"Obviously, the work ethic was all there," said Alstott. "As far as leadership, not just on the field but in the weight room and doing whatever it took, he changed the organization and trained and groomed some younger kids like me who came in. He motivated and led. He was very vocal in how to do that. He led by example and at the same time inspired the players. He talked to the team in different ways of how we needed to get things changed at Purdue."
Alstott was a freshman when Grigson was a junior. He did not experience the consecutive 4-7 seasons that Grigson had in 1991 and 1992. The 1993 season was tough for both of them when the Boilermakers went 1-10. It was a disappointing time, but better things were ahead for 1994. That is when Alstott saw Grigson emerge as a leader to an even greater degree.
"I did not get to experience the first two years he experienced," said Alstott. "We felt his junior year and my freshman year we had a good squad, especially the core of the seniors and juniors we had. We thought we would do better. We had high expectations. It was a letdown.
"Going into his senior year, that's when we really got to experience Ryan as a person, leader and an athlete. With him being a captain, too, I was comfortable. I really felt he was a true leader."
Grigson recalled last week that the 1-10 record in 1993 was tough. He was nominated as one of three team captains in 1994 (Alstott and linebacker Matt Kinsbury were the others), and he wanted his senior season to be better. The Boilers were able to produce a 5-4-2 record for the school's first winning season since 1984. The team averaged 404.1 yards per game, while ranking second in the Big Ten in scoring (30.5) and 12th nationally in rushing yardage (234.8).
Grigson started 11 games that year, doing his part to help the school record a successful season. His moral guidance is one Alstott remembers with admiration.
"He was an inspiration on and off the field for all of us," said Alstott. "I think, most importantly, when you don't cause problems and you are part of the solution, you choose the right people to hang out with. He had a knack for that. He was a leader. He chose to lead, not to follow. A lot of people get in trouble when they tend to follow. Obviously, his leadership skills kept him out of trouble, and the skills inspired others to do so as well."
Colletto, now retired and living in the west, agreed that Grigson always was an answer to a problem rather than one who caused worries, and he does not remember Grigson ever adding a gray hair to his head.
"He did everything you asked him to do. He worked awful hard, and he wanted to do well. He just kept getting better. He was always dependable. You could trust him. You knew what he was going to do, and he busted his tail on every play in practice. He was one of those guys over the long haul of coaching that you don't forget. As coaches, you always want players you can depend on and not have to worry about, from grades to behavior on the campus and off the campus. He never was a guy you worried about."
Alstott had a long exposure to the NFL. He had a distinct impression of Grigson at Purdue. Alstott knows the efforts Grigson showed in West Lafayette will be applied in Indianapolis, too.
"He's going to work hard," said Alstott. "There is no question about that. He is going to do whatever it takes to win. I know that, in whatever responsibility he has. That's what I saw in him when I was with him at Purdue. Whatever it took – extra time, coming in early, staying late – he did. He worked harder than anyone else to get the job done."