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. Cortanis

    Classy. Just classy.

    May 3, 2012 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. r

    a nice gesture, reminds me very much of when a young NHL prospect (the name eludes me) found out during the NHL draft combine that he had a heart abnormality and would never be able to play in the NHL. the tampa bay lightning drafted them with their final pick anyway.

    May 3, 2012 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. Rutgersmo

    I never wanted Greg to leave Rutgers.

    He didn't win the BE or BCS in 11 years.

    But he won a lot of hearts.

    Best of luck to the Bucs and I truly hope that Greg finds the success he so
    richly deserves.

    He has represented Rutgers with class.....and even though now in the NFL continues to do so (see signing of Ron Girault / mini camp for Tim Brown).

    GS maybe a Buc but if's cut he BLEEDS SCARLET!


    May 3, 2012 at 4:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. Elizabeth

    Greg Schiano is a class act. I am very glad that he has taken the time and made the effort to support Eric LeGrand through his devastating and life-changing injury. There are few people who would do what Coach Schiano has done for Eric LeGrand, even if they had the ability to do so. It takes guts and commitment as there will inevitably be detractors who cannot understand the value of this gesture to this young man. It goes beyond a vote of confidence: it is a commitment to an enduring relationship as a mentor and friend. To a young man who has lost so much, this is a priceless gift. Coach Schiano is a truly great human being.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mom of 2

    Took a place on the roster?! Should have declined?? Hope all who feel this way never have to experience what this young man has!! To have such tragedy occur and to go on with strength courage and such positiveness!! I am guessing many of you would not handle the same way.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  6. JimfromBham

    This kid is a leader, even from a wheelchair. His presence during practices and games would be a huge motivator for others to keep going in the face of adversity.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. Dynamic

    Football should be banned.

    May 3, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Being completely serious. Please explain why. I think we all know that sport of some kind will always exist, it always has and I don't see it going anywhere any time soon.

      Why do you specifically that football should be banned? Is it the violence? Have you seen rugby or soccer at times?

      Is it the size of the players? Watch sumo.

      So genuinely, why do you think it should? If it's just that you don't like it...?

      May 3, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Your comments are the only thing that should be banned.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. MIKE

    glad to see there are still nice people out there!, great story! good job coach! good luck Eric, i really hope you achieve your goals!

    May 3, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  9. Layne

    I think I just became a Bucs fan for the season. Great story.

    May 3, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. go bucs

    i don't even like football, but i will watch that team now. i think they get it.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. go bucs

    where's our president? he should see this. good people left on the planet.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Come on now

      Yeah the owner of the Bucs is so financially irresponsible with his soccer team Manchester United ,the most valuable sports franchise in the world, that it's sickening. He makes Obama look like Jim Cramer.

      May 4, 2012 at 5:43 am | Report abuse |
  12. larryk

    What's even better than the story is the fact that most of the posts on here are positive. That's a pleasant change from most boards where it seems only idiots and haters post. Good luck to this guy, and to the team!!!

    May 4, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. DK

    Yay. Good for him.

    May 4, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
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