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. topaz114

    I'm happy for you Eric! R-U, rah rah, R-U, rah rah, HOO-rah, HOO-rah, Rutgers-rah! Upstream red team, Red team upstream, RAH, RAH, Rutgers rah!!

    May 2, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. gipper

    What a classy move. This was an awesome gesture by the Bucs.Love this story.

    May 2, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. WillH85

    So someone that gets paralyzed playing a game that is known to be dangerous gets all of this attention and free help but other people that are paralyzed and didn't play Football get ignored. It's sad how we treat athletes like heroes when they're playing a game.

    May 2, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Robrob

    Wow, what a story.

    May 2, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. claire

    This story is truly touching.The fact that the coach will draft a paralyzed football player is not common, but a big encouragment to other paralyzed people.It encourages them to work hard and know that people have confidence in them.If I was paralyzed I would do exactly what LeGrand did and work my hardest to be able to play!

    May 2, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JoelC

    This guy is a class act.

    May 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. rafael

    It was a nice gesture but he should have declined. Taking one of the 90 spots in the roster just denies a shot to someone else to be in the league.

    May 2, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • drannor68

      Seriously, man. It isn't even minicamps yet and you're talking 90 man rosters. Cold. Just let that sink in for a second buddy

      May 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fearfighter

      People are cold indeed....Rafael, It's symbolic...Try feeling with empathy so you understand that this is a great thing for people who have dedicated their life to a discipline but were denied their opportunity during the course of that dedication. It's a beautiful Gesture and Rafael, That could have been you buddy!

      May 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michae l J.

      You make no sense. How is signing on to this "symbolic" position, prevent anyone else from "joining the league"?

      May 2, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • A.L.

      I highly doubt that the MULTIBILLION DOLLAR machine that is the NFL would ever do anything that jeopardized drafting a potential multimillion-dollar winning prospect to its organization, this isn't the Vietnam draft, you don't just 'trade places'. The team OBVIOUSLY created a symbolic and wonderful ADDITION to their roster for Mr. LeGrand.

      So yes, it was generous to be offered and even more generous that he accepted, appreciate THE GOOD in the story!

      May 3, 2012 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
    • scott

      It does not count against the cap, it was a symbolic signing.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:46 am | Report abuse |
    • RDM3

      It's a 90 man off season roster idiot.....OFF SEASON

      May 3, 2012 at 6:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. Art

    Eric, you are in my prayers, and I truley hope that you get to lay down at that point of impact and then get up and walk away. Even if you need some help getting up, you are a winner, and have proven that this will not break your spirit; everyone that has read this story is pulling for you ...

    May 2, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dr2bee

    Greg Schiano has contributed a lot at Rutgers during his time there. He mentored, fathered, and inspired young men into adulthood, success, and professionalism. He did this all while staying true to himself and giving hope.

    Kudos to Schiano. Rutgers Future Hall of Famer

    May 2, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Me

    I think it's a wonderful gesture. It shows character unlike many of the other coaches in the news recently.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Zach

    Wow–I'm a die-hard Bucs fan, and I say let him keep the roster spot for the entire season (unlikely though that is). We will not lose more games in 2012 because this role model and hero is a part of the team. Quite the contrary. I hope he becomes a locker room staple and walks onto the field at Raymond James Stadium to receive a Bucs Super Bowl ring someday. What an inspiration Eric is. He is most welcome in the Bucs family as long as they are privileged to have him.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Smoky Joe

    Maybe it isn't a waste of the 90th spot if he can be an inspiration to the team, or the coach's goodwill benefits the team in some other ways due to the media attention. But still I don't see how hanging out with a guy who broke his spine at your profession can be anything but discouraging.

    Or maybe the 74th guy on the roster never makes the team anyways, so burning spot #90 to pay it forward doesn't cost him anything.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ednna

    This is one of the most poorly written articles I've ever read. The event was great, heart warming, wonderful. But the telling of it was soo awful.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  14. Matt

    I'm definitely gonna pass on this guy for my fantasy football league.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. Hawkfan

    Here is the deal. This is a nice move and I like the kids drive. But, what a horrible day for the image of the NFL and football. Headlines 1) Suicide 2) Hazing and murder 3) Paralysis 4) Bounties. Not such a shiny penny today

    May 3, 2012 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
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