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Saints program cover story: Marques Colston keeps making tough catches for New Orleans

Three franchise records, three playoff records, hundreds of appreciative teammates and thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of adoring fans

The top-100 photos of New Orleans Saints WR Marques Colston from the 2013 season (New Orleans Saints photos)

Tough.

It's a commonly used adjective, often tossed about like the wind, inappropriately affixed as a compliment to so many people that it doesn't draw a second glance when it's uttered in error.

But when applied correctly – say, to a man whose fortitude and grit stand out even among the men who sacrifice their bodies in a violent sport that takes as much physically as it can give financially, a brutal existence in which the career expectancy taps out at less than five years – then it can be the best, and perhaps only, way to describe him.

True, it even can be an inadequate description in that case, because it simply falls short. But it might be the most appropriate way to describe New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston, a man who appreciates simplicity as much as his teammates appreciate his will and his excellence.

For Colston, "tough" will do just fine, thank you. And his resume will support the notion.

Eight NFL seasons.

Six 1,000-yard seasons.

Six hundred seven receptions.

Eight thousand, three hundred thirty-seven receiving yards.

Sixty-three touchdowns.

Three franchise records, three playoff records, hundreds of appreciative teammates and thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of adoring fans.

And if you're not a "numbers" person, then here's a bit of testimony.

"I've never seen a guy get hit in so many horribly, awkward positions, and bounce up," Saints right tackle Zach Strief said.

"Marques has some foot (injuries) that he's dealt with for a long time because he's got a lot of miles. There's no other way to explain it. We talk all the time about (the oppressively heated training camps at) Millsaps (College in Jackson, Miss.), he's been through three of them.

"He's run with (former Saints receivers coach) Curtis Johnson, the extra 800 routes that they end up running because C.J. never wanted to stop. He's got a lot of miles on the tires and yet, he's a guy that we can manage and keep healthy enough to go out and be a very good football player, which he was for us last year and he will be this year.

"I think all the guys that have lasted here from '06, '07, guys that have been through the bad stuff here, I think there's very little question about toughness. And Marques will always be that way. It's just part of him. It's kind of who he is and we're lucky to have him."

Said Colston: "Any time you get other grown men to say positive things about you, it's a great feeling. It's something that I definitely pride myself in. There are not a lot of receivers that are willing to do some of the things that I do. Really, that's just my role in this offense."

His role has helped make the Saints offense one of the most potent in league history since 2006, the year Sean Payton was hired as coach and the team drafted Colston in the seventh round. The Saints have led the league in yards per game in 2006, '08, '09 and '11 and led the league in scoring in 2008 and '09.

Admittedly, no one knew exactly what the franchise had gotten in the receiver from Hofstra, who lasted until No. 252 in a 255-pick draft. He performed so woefully prior to training camp that there was serious consideration by Payton and his staff to not take him to Jackson.

But by the time training camp was over, Colston had won over his coaches and teammates, and had won a starting job. Since then he has blazed a path to the top of the Saints' receiving charts, leading in every major category while displaying perhaps the most important abilities – availability and dependability.

"It's truly a blessing and it extends way beyond just myself," Colston said. "I always look at the situation that I entered and the timing that I entered it, that has a lot to do with my success. I'm very grateful and I just continue to work hard to continue to be successful.

"It's a daily process. You can never feel like you've arrived in this league, just because there are literally thousands of guys trying to beat the door down and take your job. It's really a daily grind and you've got to find a way, whether it be mentally or physically, to get better every day."

Already this season, Colston is ahead of the pace from last year.

Foremost, he's healthy. The foot injury and recovery that cost him almost all of training camp in 2013 – he rarely practiced and didn't play until the final preseason game – is absent. He looks as fit as ever and Payton said the team would be judicious in Colston's use this preseason.

"I feel really good," he said. "I've just had an opportunity to really relax, rest. This camp has been pretty good to us, as far as the weather goes (in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.). So I'm just feeling really good."

The difference has been as noticeable inside the organization as it has been outside.

"That's what it's all about," receivers coach Henry Ellard said. "He shows up and he makes plays and that's what it's all about. I think this is probably the first time in a couple of years that his foot hasn't bothered him like it has in the past and I think that makes a big difference."

And Colston continues to make a difference, too. These days, as the elder statesman among the receiving corps, he's doing as much work off the field with teammates as he is on the field.

It's a transition for him – his nickname, Quiet Storm, is a testament to his ability to wreak havoc in virtual silence – so his new role as mentor is a bit out of character. But it's a task he has handled with the grace and skill he always has exhibited.

"He's done a great job in the classroom of working with the young guys, answering questions and giving tips and just that veteran wisdom that he's passing on to these young guys that makes a big difference," Ellard said.

"He's a coach on the field, as far as I'm concerned. He's been in it for the last nine years with (quarterback) Drew (Brees) and they have their own little set of rules in the way they go about doing things, and these guys need to see how it's done. And he does a great job with that."

He's helping to prepare them mentally in the same manner in which he has prepared himself.

Be available.

Be dependable.

Be tough.

"You've just got to see the big picture," Colston said. "We're blessed to be able to do what we do. There's really not a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself.

"We're sitting in a great situation and that does come with a lot of hard work, but it's one of those things that the results are so much greater in the end."

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