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. gus

    The coach could have been a lot more effective teaching this young man not to tackle with a head charge and avoid the paralysis.

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

    Yeah, that's a nice thing to do, and I respect Coach Schiano for keeping in touch with the young man and for thinking of him this last draft. I'm glad that this young man has progressed as far as he has and that he stayed in college despite a devastating injury. They both seem to be class individuals.

    but I think most of the commentators here missed the part of the article that said the signing was "honorary and no money is involved". The REALLY class thing to have done would have been for the coach to try to convince the Buc's organization to actually sign this young man with a stipend type salary, and then offer him an administrative or journalism type position. If I was in that situation, the least I would do is donate a few thousand of my (sure to be) multi-million salary to his medical funds. But at least it's better than a wave goodbye.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Craig

    This is what the spirit of sports and humankind are all about. Congratulations to both men...with best wishes to Eric for continued progress. Never give up.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Melissa

    This is truly an inspiring story. There are still a few truly good hearted people left on this earth after all. I feel that through his determination and prayer he will walk again. God still has a mission and plan for him. He WILL SUCCEED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 2, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wow

      Why did God paralyze him to begin with? What a sick mind God must have.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. havenofear

    cheap PR ploy, sadly.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stroker53

      You are really sick.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Truthbetold

      havenofear, you'll have a hard time qualifying it as a PR ploy when the coach on the bucs was this kid's college coach. Its not a stretch to assume there was some legit emotional connection between the two.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      I think that totally depends. If the Buc's owner donated a decent amount of money to this guy's medical care, or at least to some spinal research, then I would say that there was something more sincere about this. Of course, I believe that the coach from Rutgers is completely sincere in his care for the kid, but unless the Bucs also laid down some cash, then this was nothing more than a PR grab. The interest that this thing will generate around Tampa will end up making the team some good money, a lot more money that it cost to send this kid a jersey and a helmet. They even saved considerable cash by not having to pay one more player for their 90 man roster.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Why would you callously say "cheap PR ploy"? The Bucs aren't paying him; this is merely symbolic. I think you need to go to the Wizard and ask for a heart.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David

    He looks like Devin Hester, but doesn't run quite as fast

    May 2, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Football-less L.A

    We in L.A now have a Team. Thanks Bucs.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sammy sozo

    Good uplifting story. I think suggestions by many posters that the Bucs help Eric in some way with a job or job training and/or financial help is quite appropriate. Hopefully the Bucs front office will read this and act on it. Either way best of luck to Eric. If he can make it through life, anyone can.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Troyzkoi

    Congrats!!! I'm sure they will find him some sort of duties after he completes school in the fall. Great compassion shown here, actions speak louder than words!!!

    May 2, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 2sc00ps

    In the spirit and manner of Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) from "Community", "Aww, that's nice!"

    May 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JeanneLH

    Lump in the long till football starts again?

    May 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John

    he should hold out....

    May 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. holdem

    I never really liked the Bucs but I'm starting to.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cmt1975

    I saw this hit right in front of me, as I was sitting 3 rows back at that game. A horrific day. Congrats to Coach Schiano and Eric LeGrand. Keepin it classy!

    May 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Wow, that must have been awful to see. Thank you for posting a positive comment in the midst of all these negative and atheistic comments.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mike

    "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."

    THAT is awesome.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
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