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. beylous

    Normally I couldn't care less about sports stories, but I have to admit, this is a very good article. I wish this player all the best.

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

    Well done coach Schiano and all the the good luck to Eric, keep fighting brother.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. zettersg

    I am now a Schiano fan! What an utterly decent thing to do. I am also now a Bucs fan as they must have agreed. I hope they continue to support this young man and help him achieve the most he can.

    Compare to the fate of "The Tooz" and so many others who are seriously injured playing this game. It would be wonderful if thie eupport were the norm in the NFL rather than noteworthy.

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

      Class is now spelled SCHIANO. Awesome, simply awesome.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. letsgomets2012

    Cute guy, too!

    God Bless!:)

    May 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ron

    Great job coach Schiano ! Whether he accepted the offer or not you did a great thing. Staying in touch with him and
    his family after his injury is something you can be proud of.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. nonyabidnes2

    what a wonderful and heart wrenching story. I wish him the best...

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

    however well intentioned this is, it fails to address his real problem, the man worked for the university in a football playing position which does not pay and shamefully does not have workmen's comp. Amateurism is completely dead, let's admit it and properly compensate these athletes.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • HZ

      Well nobody can make the guy's body whole again but if you had insane medical bills, I'm sure you wouldn't mind a short term NFL contract feeding your bank account.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lib

      I always wondered why athletes in university and colleges are not financially compensated since they bring so much money to the schools. Even high schools should compensate athletes for all their hard work and practices

      May 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bird

    GREAT MOVE COACH SCHIANO!!!! GREAT MOVE TAMPA BAY!!!!! NOW THERE'S A COACH THAT'S INVESTED IN HIS PLAYERS!!!! GOTTA LOVE IT!

    May 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DELANCY

    What a heart warming story!!! OMG Coach Schiano is the greastest!!! Bravo
    Blessings upon Le'Grand....Determined!

    May 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. finally

    finally, someone is using their noggin. good job!

    May 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. werewolf1

    I have lived in Tampa Bay now since 1980 and I think Coach Schiano will take the Bucs back to the Super Bowl. The Players are already seeing what he's all about. Good Luck Coach.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. NorCalMojo

    waddadik

    May 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. detada

    How cool is that?

    May 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. rock woman

    Beautiful. Schiano and LeGrand represent the best of what people can be. Would we all were so caring and so strong.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Colin Morgan

    Choice move Schiano. Now, if the Glazers would only spend money on Tampa instead of Man U, they might accomplish something ON the field as well.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
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