May 2nd, 2012
11:11 AM ET

Buccaneers sign paralyzed Rutgers player Eric LeGrand

[Updated at 1:14 p.m. ET] Eric LeGrand's football coach at Rutgers helped him emotionally in the months after his on-field paralysis. Now the coach is symbolically helping him realize his dream of making it to the NFL.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, now coached by ex-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, announced Wednesday they've signed the former defensive tackle who was partially paralyzed in a 2010 game to their 90-man off-season roster.

Schiano, who joined the Buccaneers this year after more than a decade with Rutgers, offered the symbolic deal to his former player by phone on Tuesday, LeGrand told reporters in a conference call.

"I said, 'Are you serious? You want to use this on me?'" LeGrand said. "(Schiano) said, 'It's the least we can do.'

"Honestly, it's amazing. It really is," he said.

LeGrand collided with an Army kick returner while making a tackle on October 16, 2010, injuring his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. At the hospital, medical personnel told him he'd be a quadriplegic and would need a respirator for the rest of his life.

But LeGrand progressed, breathing on his own after five weeks. He operates a wheelchair, and he's been able to stand upright with the help of a metal frame. With medical bills covered in part by donations to two foundations, including Rutgers' Eric LeGrand Believe Fund, and he says his ultimate goal is to walk again. He told Sports Illustrated in November that he wanted to return to the spot on the field where he was injured, lie down, and get up and walk away.

November 2011: 'Do not sweat the small stuff,' LeGrand tells HLN

He returned to the Rutgers field in his wheelchair twice: on October 29, leading his team onto the gridiron, and on November 19 for Senior Day festivities before the Scarlet Knights' win against Cincinnati.

LeGrand, who intends to graduate from Rutgers in the fall and hopes to pursue a career in football broadcasting, said Wednesday the signing is only honorary and no money is involved. The team is sending him a jersey with his No. 52 - expected to arrive at his New Jersey apartment this week - and he already has posted to Facebook a picture of him with a Buccaneers helmet.

Schiano said that heading into last week's NFL draft, he "couldn't help but think that this should've been Eric's draft class."

"This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men," Schiano said in a Buccaneers news release Wednesday.

LeGrand had hopes of making it to the NFL as a player. He had 60 tackles - 11 for a loss - 2.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries in 31 games before his injury as a junior.

He's not sure whether the Buccaneers have any non-playing role in mind for him. He says he appreciates the gesture from Schiano, who he says has been "like a father to me." The coach had talked to him almost weekly and also keeps in  touch with his family, LeGrand said.

"(Schiano had taught me that) when you're faced with adversity, to not back down. ... He helped me and my whole situation," LeGrand said.

And now, symbolically at least, he's following his coach to the pros.

2011: Texas Rangers draft paralyzed Georgia outfielder

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Filed under: College football • Florida • Football • New Jersey • Pro football • Sports
soundoff (341 Responses)
  1. rbyrnes

    It is nice when people do the right thing!! very good Karma.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dimitri

    Bravo! Good read.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Wallster

    The human spirit and one's personal drive will always be more impressive than one's physical abilities. Great story and an inspirational tale... well done.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joseph

    Big up to this coach and tons of respect for the young man! Keep fighting bro!

    May 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rynomite

    It seems like a nice gesture, but I don't know that I would want it if I was in LeGrand's place.

    Honestly, I think I would be a bit offended by the gesture.

    My thinking would be:
    I have not earned a spot in the NFL. I don't want something given to me that I have not earned.
    What point does this serve? Just to make me feel good? or is it a publicity stunt to get positive PR for the Bucs?

    May 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • mojo

      You aren't in his place so we don't care what you would do.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • humanbean

      Maybe you just don't realize how precious life really is. Maybe you don't stop to smell the roses along the way. Hopefully you will never have to feel what it's like to walk a mile in this guys shoes. It's a kind and thoughtful gesture on the coach's part in order to let the guy know how much he means to him. Nothing more and nothing less. Too bad the simplest things in life cannot be seen by most people.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerome Horowitz

      It makes just about everybody involved feel good. Given the state of the world today, I have no objections.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fitty Stim

      Do you really need to wonder if this is a PR stunt???

      May 2, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • humanbean

      "cannot be seen" Sorry, meant cannot be *appreciated.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John

    Patronizing to say the least.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alliestp

      Mr. LeGrand doesn't think so. That's what makes him a unique human being.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lynn

    Great story of spirit, truth and belief! This sends a message that every child's dream can come true. What a precious, symbolic gift that will forever be remembered by all! Well done Coach, well done!

    May 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. CRuez

    Schiano was a class act at UM then at Rutgers. No surprise he's continuing that in the NFL. Great story all around.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Babs

    Jason, I love this story about Eric LeGrand, but what does this sentence mean (copying and pasting here)?
    "With medical bills are paid with donations to two foundations, including Rutgers' Eric LeGrand Believe Fund, and he says his ultimate goal is to walk again."

    May 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jack and gerry goddard

    Remember a guy who was told "he'd never walk again?" i think he, not only walked, but was a key player for the Super Bowl winning Steelers. Best of luck. we need a GOOD ROCKY BLEIER STORY. JIM abbott, who only had one hand, made us believers by tossing a no-hitter. Rey Dempsy, without half a foot, still hols the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal! Best of everything and, if you don't make it to stardom, you can always say, "at least, I tried," which is more than a lot of us would have done!

    May 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    You are a # 1 class act Coach Shiano.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. WhackyWaco

    This is a dumb gesture by the NFL.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy ©

      What a cute, and appropriate, u/n you have, blees your heart.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • SS Von Kluger

      Remember what happened in Fl? yes you do.........your answer

      May 2, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alliestp

      Why? and how does it affect you?

      May 2, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. My2Cents

    I think this is an outstanding move on the coaches part. I think that it is great that through this tragedy, this young man has gained strength in himself and from those who have supported him. Some will naysay the move... well shame on ya'll. This young man can be a shining example of our youth and I think he will be whether he is able to walk or not. We see so much hate and meanness in the world today, it is wonderful to see that not only was this gesture made for whatever reason, the humble receipt of the gesture speaks volumns about this young man. Good Luck to you in all you do!!!

    May 2, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Harold Bratcher

    I don't know squat about coach Schiano or the Buccaneers. Because he did all that even though HE DIDN'T HAVE TO, he just shot through the roof in my book. I am a Philly fan but just because he did that, I'm cheering everytime the Bucs do good while he is there. BRAVO BRAVO, this is the kinda stuff that needs to be on the news not all the garbage that usually is. Thumbs up all the way. I PRAISE GOD for ya coach Schiano keep up the good heartedness and good work!!!!

    May 2, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. rousch15

    This is the best story about people with disabilities in pro sports ever since the story of defensive lineman Kenny Walker of the Denver Broncos. Americans with disabilities can do anything if they are given the fair chance.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • p-zombie

      The bucs have long been a team that supports the people in our community with disabilities. And yea they can do better than regular people too. I reference Matt Bryant. Dude had a club foot and tied the NFL field goal record.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
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