David Flitcroft paid tribute to the progress of his skipper Krystian Pearce after the centre half was named in the Sky Bet League overall Team of the Season on Sunday.
Stags had four in the League Two team, but only Pearce made the overall side.
“Having four in the team was a big moment, but what rounded it off was having Pearcey in the team of the year,” said manager Flitcroft.
“In a week when the players told their stories to each other, in Pearcey’s life there has been a lot of struggle and heartache.
“He’s had a tough career. But he just wants to keep fighting, driving and going for his dreams.
“It’s the way his family has supported him and he’s supported them through the hard times.
“Just to see him on that stage getting the recognition is brilliant for a football story.
“When you understand what Pearcey has been through in his career and some of the things that haven’t worked out for him in his career, to have that moment stood on that stage, I was certainly proud of him.
“Also what he has gone through in the last six months with the court case and him standing up. It just shows what a person he is.”
Flitcroft said Pearce was being rewarded for stepping up his training work rate under his management.
“I understand the best in the world – the champions, they do more than anyone else. I’ve never known anyone do less and get better,” said Flitcroft.
“When I came in here, players were not training. They were being wrapped up in cotton wool and just playing games. You can’t get better like that.
“We had to create an environment in which Pearcey and the other players wanted to keep training and work every day and we saw him through that. We got his recovery better. There is so much work gone into him.
“But you can’t set an environment if players don’t want that environment – they won’t do it. But he has done it and deserves every accolade he has got this season. He has been immense.
“We have put two really athletic centre halves next to him, so the balance has been good. We’ve had 17 clean sheets and Pearcey has played a massive part in that.”