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. R J

    Not quite the story I was hoping to read. I hoped that money would be involved since his medical bills are going to be so high.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      Insurance should cover those costs.This is an inspirational and motivational gesture that can achieve great results as he moves through his life.He has many obstacles to still overcome.This will certainly lift his sprits and make him feel as if he in some part is still able to achieve his goal of being drafted by the NFL.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • NINA

      It stated in the story medicals were paid by donations.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bob

    I feel bad for the guy and wish him all the best – but "signing" (what does that even mean here) is the most moronic thing I have ever heard. NEWSFLASH: he cannot even stand unsupported!!

    May 2, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      Not sure if trolling or just stupid. Will leave it at the latter

      May 2, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Buck

      You apparently lack reading comprehension skills.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • ilvpitz

      Come on dude. Where is your heart? Why does it personally bother you that they signed him?

      May 2, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Reddirtrider

      NEWSFLASH – Signing this young man was not moronic, it's the act of a class man – obviously not you. He wasn't drafted, so they didn't waste a pick on him, he was signed, just as many other undrafted collegate players will be over the next few weeks. I'll be rooting for the Bucs this season for this act of humanity.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • KB

      You're an idiot. It's a nice gesture of support.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Marlin

      Bob, its the same thing when people get honorary diplomas. It isnt the real thing, but its done as a small gesture. Let him have what he can. His neck was broken.. if this brings him some small measure of happiness im all for it.

      May 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      all y'all believe in the tooth fairy too, right?

      May 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Steve

    The will to go on when accompanied by a hand up ,not a hand out ,is an unbeatable combination.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. checkyofacts

    True class act! Well done!

    May 2, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  5. Gary

    Class act. Proud to be a Buccaneer fan today.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  6. Synog

    Classy move Schiano. More positive stories like this CNN. Thanks

    May 2, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mother Nature

    Quite a gesture...bravo to the Buccaneers organization.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  8. Gary

    When you have to disqualify what you are about to say, it only reinforces your intention.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  9. Vance

    To those who say, there should be money involved and that this is just a crazy stunt, I beg to differ. This does two things. It shows the warrior spirit of an athlete and his coach. It will also give this young man some spot light time which he can use to further help his cause. I hope he gets a broadcasting job and becomes a beacon for those in need of inspiration.

    Kudos all around.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  10. Tracy L. Owensmith

    Even though no money was involved, still a classy move by the Bucs.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jason

    Nicely done by Tampa Bay and Schiano. Keep it up Eric!!!

    May 2, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jo Holly

    As the mother of a junior football player this kind of injury is always in the back of my mind. But football is a brotherhood and The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have proved that.....Awesome!

    May 2, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. Brian

    Very nice gesture. As of today, I'm a Buccaneers fan. 🙂

    May 2, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. Troy

    Bob Knight did this with Landon Turner over 25 years ago. He got the Celtics to draft him after he was paralized in a car crash.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. VP

    People, please READ the article. His medical bills are paid for by two foundations. The money was not the point of this gesture.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Randy

      There is NO money at ALL involved in this signing. The medical bills are covered by the foundations and the article says, 'there is no money involved in the signing just an honorary gesture." I think it's awesome and think they will eventually find something for him to do to make a little money anyway.

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