When Nick Gates broke the fibula and tibia in his left leg on September 16, 2021 in Washington, there were real doubts that the Giants offensive lineman would ever play football again.

Gates underwent seven surgeries to repair the damage and treat the infections, leading to extensive rehabilitation to see how his leg would respond in the long term. Then the Giants overhauled their coaching staff in the offseason, and his role on the team was uncertain, even if Gates could get healthy enough to play.

But after spending training camp and starting the season on the physically disabled list and going 410 days between games, Gates returned to the field on Oct. 30 in Seattle and played five snaps.

“I just went one step at a time, day by day,” Gates said Monday. “I’ve never tried to look too far ahead or look too far into the past. What happened happened, and I have no control over that part of it. All I could control was my attitude and what I did every day. I just tried to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going.”

Three games later, Gates played all the snaps against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, his first start under center since that fateful day in Washington.

The Giants on Monday named Gates the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, which honors NFL players who exemplify the principles of sportsmanship and courage.

The award is voted solely by teammates. The Giants’ two other candidates were running back Sterling Shepard and quarterback Daniel Jones. Head coach Brian DeBoll announced Gates’ selection during a team meeting.

“It definitely makes a difference, even if it wasn’t done by my teammates, but even more so because my teammates voted for it,” Gates said. “They saw me putting in the hard work every day last year to get back to where I was and all the hardships and everything I had to overcome. It felt really good to be called, especially with the other two guys who were in the group with me.”

Gates is now a Courage Ambassador for victims of abuse, violence and neglect as part of Courage House National Children’s Support Network.

“Courage, it’s just showing that I’m not afraid, but showing that you can always keep going no matter what – if you’re hurt or if you’re having a bad day, it doesn’t matter,” Gates said. said. “Just keep moving forward, keep moving forward and keep working no matter what because there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to keep going.”

Gates, 27, has been with the Giants since signing as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska in 2018. He started every game in the 2020 season, and in the Thanksgiving loss to the Cowboys, he earned the highest pass-blocking and overall grades of his career from Pro Football Focus.

It remains to be seen what the Giants will do once starting center John Feliciano is healthy, but Gates has certainly carved out a niche for himself in New York as a vocal, hard-hitting leader.

“Whether it was in high school or whatever, I always played hard, always played tough, played through the whistle. That’s what they taught me,” Gates said. “I was never a great technician in football, so I always had to show a different place on the field. I feel like that’s my way of being on the field is playing hard and being the enforcer, I guess if you want to call it that. I don’t know. I think that’s how football should be played.”

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