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. Cookin

    Coach Schiano - this is way kool - as a lifelong Bucs Fan now living in KY - I am looking forward to seeinh him on the sidelines in a Bucs Jersey - you sir have brought some additional class back to the team and the sport in general - Coach Schiano - I wish you the best in the upcoming season

    May 2, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Faxon

    Football: stupid millionaires chasing a ball around. The cripples resulting from this stupid "sport" are the result of a mass hysteria and obsession with a stupid game.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JohnnyVegas

    Wow, I'm surprised by the negative comments. It just goes to show how many ignorant people there are in this world. Most unfortunate.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. D godden

    RIP Junior Seau

    May 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sailor101

    This is a great story, I'd much rather read stories like this than have to hear about Ron Artest ever again!

    May 2, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jj

    This is sorta like Alex Zinardi. Indycar champ, 500 winner, F1 driver. His Indy car was hit by a car going 220 – as he sat in his unmoving car, sideways, on the track. It took the front of the spindly car off, and he lost 3/4 of his blood as his legs were sheared off, just above his knees. Miraculously, he survived, later to race in the German Touring car division, and winning. He also raced wheel chairs, winning a big race. He also went back to that track to finish his race. He was leading when he spun, and he completed the final 8 laps in an Indy car fitted with hand controls.
    He is a remarkable man who never lost faith, and always had time for others. We can all hope the best for young Eric! Life isn't always fair, but bravo for him, for wanting to make the best of it.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kriss Greenn

      Thank you JJ! You said it right:-)

      May 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kriss Greenn

    Wow, a lot of you people are missing the point in this. Nothing is being 'dumbed down', he's not getting paid or taking a spot from a actual player! Why can't some of you just be happy for Eric. I'm more amazed at the progress he has made. Those of you hating on this young man are plain out jealous. Eric is still going to school and still trying to become something for himself.....what are YOU doing with you life?

    May 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tom

    He'll be playing half-back.

    I'm just kidding. I think this is pretty positive, from a sport that has become a joke in the last decade.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. snottykid

    cheap publicity stunt...not a good sign for the bucs...greg shiano is all show and cheap tricks...the fans will turn against him if he doesn't win...

    May 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • cw

      "snotty kid" is right. Go shut up.

      May 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. AP23

    Chris – you're an absolute idiot

    May 2, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dan

    "With medical bills are paid with donations to two foundations ..." Proof read much?

    May 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jack

    Wow. So many people commenting are so – negative. They offered him pay and benefits. I think that it is an amazing offer. It is not business strategy, it is Human Kindness at work here. We need a lot more of it on this planet. NFL, NBA, etc. They could all do better at taking care of their own, not just the multi-millionaire players.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cookin

      Coach Schiano – this is way kool – as a lifelong Bucs Fan now living in KY – I am looking forward to seeing him on the sidelines in a Bucs Jersey – you sir have brought some additional class back to the team and the sport in general – Coach Schiano – I wish you the best in the upcoming season...

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

    Bobby Knight git Red Auerbach to do the same thing with Landon Turner. The Boston Celtics drafted Turner even though he was paralyzed and unable to play. One of the better things that Knight did.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. boyarsan

    As a life long Rutgers supporter and a graduate of the school, Greg Schiano has re-invented football and student spirit on the Banks of the Old Raritan prior to his departure to the NFL! Obvioiusly, we did not necessarily think that everything he did was wonderful. However, with this story about Eric LeGrand, all is forgiven. This is one of the classiest and most heartfelt gestures that I have ever seen in the world of professional sports. I will not give up on my New York Giants because of this. However, I now have a new second favorite team to root for!!!!!!!

    May 2, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. concjo

    Well, this a better signing than what they gave the Bears in the Gaines Adams trade a couple years back.....

    Seriously, nice story and stand up organization!

    May 2, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
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