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. bill

    COACH .... YOU'RE A CLASS ACT. THE WORLD IS WATCHING YOU. GOD BLESS

    May 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. James

    Hooray, political correctness has come to the NFL, 'everybody win's'

    May 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thor

      It is a good thing, I guess, to teach young people that a failure, especially devestating ones, will result in a politically correct "win for everybody". I guess all of the surgeons going through anatomy class need to pass.... without grades!

      May 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. rick

    most all NFL players suffer from a condition . some have pretty boy issues others have dancing issues and some just like attention .

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

    Purely symbolic, but a worthy thing to do.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mallory

    Reblogged this on the.current and commented:
    Wonderful story 🙂

    May 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Eric

    I would love to buy LeGrand's Buc Jersey. I think they should sell his jersey and use the money to help this kid out.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jared

      Great idea, I think they should make this happen!

      May 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jenna

      I think that's an amazing idea!!

      May 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • JonPeter

      That is a great idea, sell his jersey and have all the profits go to an organization that works with paralyzed individuals.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Duane

    A fighter all the way, awesome job in not giving up!

    May 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. PumpNDump

    This is ludicrous.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tori

    Very inspiring story and hats off the NFL.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. truth1063

    I feel for this man and wish him the best, but part of me feels that it is just more of the "everyone gets a trophy" generation. Did they hand out cookies and capri suns after?

    May 2, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • TomGI

      What part of you feels that way? Is it the dumb part?

      May 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • jimdog33

      What's wrong with you?

      May 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • liam

      Yeah, this is NOTHING like that.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Aaron

    College football lost a great coach in Schiano, but the NFL definitely took a step in the positive direction. After all the uproar with off-season in NOLA, great to see a team and a coach go above and beyond to fulfill a dream of a young man. Tampa Bay definitely earned my respect by doning something that cost them nothing, but meant everything to someone else.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TomGI

    Are college players covered by some form of disability insurance through their colleges? Do they get medical insurance if they are seriously injured?

    May 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. grace

    They need to find a cure for this crap... Seriously with stem cells it should be one of the easiest things to do that we haven't figured out yet,, all you're doing essentially is reconnecting a few wires..

    May 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Greg C.

    I just became a Buc fan...good move...

    May 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. gaucho420

    I don't watch the NFL, but this is a great story. A little human touch can go a long way.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
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