PITTSBURGH — From childhood, University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Tre Tipton had it rough, growing up amid financial instability, food insecurity and family tragedies, which often left him depressed.
But, thanks to a tenacious spirit, Tifton managed to pull himself out of “the darkness’' and is now a vocal mental health advocate, earning him the prestigious 2021 Disney Spirit Award, given annually to the most inspiring figure in college football.
“It is a humbling honor to be this year’s recipient of the Disney Spirit Award,” Tipton said. “This recognition has been given to so many incredible people over the years, including my former Pitt teammate James Conner. I believe the challenges I’ve faced have come for reasons greater than myself. It’s my goal to use those experiences to help others who are enduring the same difficulties. You don’t need to go through it alone. Working together, we can change lives and save lives.”
Tipton will be presented with the coveted Disney Spirit Award by Disney Sports Vice President Faron Kelley at The Home Depot College Football Awards on December 9.
The show will be a stark contrast to Tipton’s surroundings more than a decade ago, when growing up outside Pittsburgh.
There, his living conditions were unstable and he struggled to deal with one family tragedy after another, as well as four season-ending injuries at Pitt. That eventually led to multiple suicide attempts and turned a traditional four-year college football experience for him into what is now his seventh year.
But displaying the kind of internal fortitude that earned him this year’s Disney Spirit Award, Tipton eventually committed to seeking the help that he needed for his mental wellness as well as his physical health. And he’s helping to rescue others fighting similar demons with L.O.V.E. -- Living Out Victoriously Everyday, a nonprofit organization he launched with a classmate aimed at providing mental health support for fellow students on campus and beyond. Tipton also does motivational speaking about mental health around campus, at his old high school and the surrounding community.
“We created the Disney Spirit Award to honor and recognize precisely the kind of indomitable spirit that Tre has shown in turning back from the dark places in the human mind,’’ Kelley said, “and his passion around helping others struggling with similar mental health issues is inspiring and likely helping to save lives too. We couldn’t think of a more deserving honoree this year.’’
Tipton is one of 26 winners of the award which was first given in 1996 to Rossville High School’s Daniel Huffman. He is the second Pitt player to receive the award, joining former Pitt running back James Conner (2016).