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. mike

    absolutely amazing. good for him.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. banasy ©

    What a truly heartwarming story!
    This story has brightened my day, and further reinforces that, in this weary world, humanity and compasion still exist.
    Well done, Tampa Bay.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. Pete

    But just imagine if they did put him onto the field and hike the ball to his lap and he rolled forward on the field in his wheelchair. What player wants the bad publicity of having tackled a quadriplegic? 🙂

    May 2, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      He could be the leading rusher!

      May 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Hey Pete why don't you go troll somewhere else. Let's see if you're still posting jokes after you get hit by a car and you become a quadriplegic too.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • SilentBoy741

      That is an excellent strategy. They should totally do it.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobbyBrick

      @Eric -Lighten up. There was no insult or cruelty his joke, and from what I know of LaGrand, living in NJ and following Rutgers closely, he's the kind of person with such a positive outlook that he'd find it funny too.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. aldo

    Nice pick.!!!!! Go bucs

    May 2, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mitch

    Schiano is a CLASS ACT!

    May 2, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  6. lseejax

    Wonderful jesture by the Bucs! Surely, the Bucs front office and/or team services can find a paid position in communications for Eric when he graduates this fall. There are NFL work opportunities in areas that Eric CAN DO, despite his physical challenges. Way to go, Coach Greg Schiano!

    May 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • MontanaTrace

      Great comment. If not the Bucs, maybe something closer to home.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jim

    Very nice story for once!

    May 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    I love bad stories that make you feel so good.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. hjs3

    Good on the Bucs and the coach....
    Much prefer to read these kinda things as opposed to the New Orleans Saints woes too..

    May 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. zendiK

    Coming in as a freshman the same year Eric did, I've watched him my entire college career. I am so happy for him and his family! This makes me so incredibly proud to call myself a Scarlet Knight. Keep Chopping Eric! bELieve!

    May 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Stefonte

    This would have been perfect if they would have drafted him with their last pick. But either way its a great story of caring. Now, give him a job analyzing film so he can actually contribute

    May 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Yup

    I like it.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. johnsonj3

    God Bless this young man and his family.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MEGGARME

    VERY NICE

    May 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jeff

    A very, very classy act by Coach Schiano and the Bucs. New fan here.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
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