PULLMAN, Wash. -- Washington State University awarded Steve Gleason with its highest alumni honor Thursday.

Gleason received the 2017 Regents' Distinguished Alumnus Award. The award is given to graduates who make significant contributions to society and bring attention to the quality of a WSU education.

Gleason is recognized as a leading spokesperson for the effort to find a cure for the neuromuscular disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Gleason said then, “There will be no white flags." Since his diagnosis, the Team Gleason Foundation he founded has raised awareness of ALS and millions of dollars to fund research and technology.

Gleason was a WSU student athlete from 1995 to 1999 and a four-year letter winner in both football and baseball. Gleason played for the New Orleans Saints from 2000 to 2007 after graduating from WSU.

The president of WSU, Kirk Schulz, said Gleason excelled on the field and the classroom. He said Gleason made a big impact not only at WSU, but around the world.

"Steve has never bought into the status quo. He challenged life before ALS and he continues to love and experience life today," Schulz said. "His passion to persevere and succeed despite life's challenges has inspired thousands, not only around the United States, but around the world."

Grady Emmerson, a former teammate, spoke Thursday about Gleason's life. He talked about Gleason surfing in Australia, living by the river,

"We dream about things. Steve just does it. That's his mission," Emmerson said.

He also talked about Gleason's fight against ALS. He said more people know about ALS because of Gleason and he's an example to others.

"I truly believe this man would be receiving this award whether or not he was diagnosed with ALS. He would have done something else to find his path to be on this stage," Emmerson said.

Gleason thanked his family, Emmerson, the president and the WSU Board of Regents. He reflected on his time at WSU and how it made an impact on his life.

"I certainly have some great football and baseball memories, but I think what makes my experience at WSU so incredible is the memories that have nothing to do with athletics. Life has led me to New Orleans, which is many of thousands of miles from Pullman, but my roots are still here. Naturally, part of the reason for receiving this award is because of how I've handled ALS. Part of why I've been able to handle ALS is because of my experience here at WSU," said Gleason.

He ended his speech with his famous quote, "There will be no white flags," and "Go Cougs!"