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. That

    Is a classy move. Nice to read a positive story!

    May 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rod C. Venger

    No money? That's a lie. Any person occupying a roster spot on any team has to be paid the league's minimum wage. That's league rules and union rules, both. That's about a $150,000/year welfare payment to this gent.

    May 2, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Rod, No roster spot taken, only a symbolic signing.

      May 2, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. kayakjim

    Great story and two wonderful, humble and spirit-filled people in a game that really needs that positive shot-in-the-arm. Bravo!

    May 2, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jerry

    I'm a longtime Detroit Lions fan who well remembers Mike Utley. I applaud a classy move by the coach & the Buccaneers. Good luck, Mr. LeGrand!

    May 2, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. KawiMan

    Right On!!!

    He might be paralyzed, but he has bigger balls than most men!!

    May 2, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cpc65

    An emotional and inspiring story to say the least. I hope they're not send him his jersey via FedEx or he'll never get it.

    May 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Packer's fan

    All young men who pay such a price as him deserve to be recognized. Classy move by the Buc's – all teams should treat injured players with extra respect and recognition.

    May 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott M.

      Tell that to Junior Seau's family.

      May 2, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. SearchingForAnAtheistExtremist

    The NFL would prefer to sign a paralyzed man over an able bodied female.

    May 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • SearchingForAnAtheistExtremist

      If that wasn't so insulting, I might be amused.

      May 2, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • hardcase59

      Even from a wheelchair he'd outplay you!! LOL!!

      May 2, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • SearchingForAnAtheistExtremist

      Outplay me? Absolutely. But that's really besides the point. I was simply pointing out a rather sad irony which occurred to me as I read the article.

      May 2, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mark Rogers

    God Bless Him!

    May 2, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. winwin

    Christ is not an imaginary guy in the sky. His spirit of peacefulness, kindness, strength and overcoming adversities are good charateristics. His spirit lives inside of you if you will quietly acknowledge it.

    May 2, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steven1990

      You're right he's an imaginary guy in your head......

      May 2, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hair Bear

    This is a brave young man! I wish him the best and I'm praying that he will continue to have success in his recovery. All things are possible if you believe! I'm a fan way to go champ!

    May 2, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. orgvegkid

    PAY HIM!

    May 2, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    Praying for the player's continued recovery; now there is a football team with some real class.

    May 2, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. TriXen

    "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."

    I sincerely hope you get that chance, sir.

    May 2, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jim

    I hope the Bucs keep the #52 reserved for him this year. Great story, Great move!

    May 2, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
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