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. James PDX

    What? Something good and inspiring happened under Obama's watch? Unbelievable! Don't tell the GOP, they'll spin it somehow that Obama was responsible for his paralysis in the 1st place.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Carl Peter Klapper

    Congratulations to Mr. LeGrand on an honor well-earned. His persistence, his faith and his love, so palpably evident in this report and elsewhere, is worth a dozen all-star draft picks.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. 28mAmerican

    Usually Im a synic for things like this. This is cool though and perhaps he can make himself in disposable as a coaching element and perhaps can still enjoy working doing what he enjoyed. Congrats on making it into the nfl.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Justin

    His dream was to make the NFL and make NFL money. Not to just wear a jersey and be on a team, he wants that $$$!!!!

    At least give him a years salary.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SCI-Therapist

    Can't we all just be happy and find something uplifting in this story? Instead we turn it into some 'big brother powers that be" tugging our heart strings or twist it into a rant about how NFL coaches make millions and don't donate enough. Maybe after a few of you have actually worked with someone with a spinal cord injury you would look at it from a different perspective and see this story for what it is... a symbolic gesture of kindness honoring a young man's accomplishments because his life is forever changed. Some of these comments are just further evidence of why our society is so pessimistic and self-involved. Yes times are bad but they have become so bad we can't even say a kind thing for someone who truly deserves it. Pitiful

    May 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jenny his #52 available yet?

    May 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Butch

    A Class Act

    May 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. SS

    Greg Schiano came to Rutgers, the doormat of the Big East and college football, and turned it into a powerful program that made a bowl one season after the other. He put so much value and heart into his players; ask any of them who graduated with Greg at the helm.

    There has been a long friendship between Schiano and LeGrand. He may have not given Eric money with the signing, but I am damn well sure that Greg will vouch for him when Eric goes for a broadcasting job.

    Schiano is pure class. As someone who grew up 10-15 minutes from the New Brunswick Campus, hats off to ya, coach. Even as a Jets fan, I'll be rooting for the Bucs to do well out of pure respect.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Copper's Donut Shoppe

    football is silly

    May 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Truthbetold

      I'm sure football has touched more lives than you have. Don't be such a troll.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • kevin

      if its silly then why are you on here reading about it ?

      May 2, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Caneman

    This is how you show love to your fellow man. Great story.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. david

    God so many people are idiots. Read the article before you complain. First off his medical bills have already been paid by donations. Second off he was signed to a contract where no money was involved. It was just a nice gesture. The 90 player roster Has lots of players on there that wont be on the Openning day roster

    May 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. KWDragon

    A classy move from a classy coach. I hope other teams (looking at you, Pats) and other players (yeah, Cutler, you) see this and realize that humanity is what it is all about. What do you say, Goodell? You have a job for a young man with a college degree and a drive to succeed?

    May 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ed

    What a coach, it's not always about the $$$

    May 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. The Dude

    He should have worked on a degree with a future, now he is the wheeled mascot for one of the worst teams in football. Hope his school gives him a free ride to get any degree of his choosing so he has a future.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. James PDX

    Why does CNN have about 5 different types of forums? This one may be the worst. Why have a Reply option if the reply shows up on a different page from the original post and doesn't even say that you are replying, much less who to. Whoever designed this forum took a hard hit to the brainpan and never recovered and CNN decided to make them an honorary employee and let them work here. Nice work, number yellow!

    May 2, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
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