The Buccaneers and head coach Greg Schiano made a classy move by signing paralyzed Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand to fill Tampa Bay's final roster spot. The signing is symbolic in nature and LeGrand was honored by Schiano's gesture.
On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have signed defensive tackle Eric LeGrand from Rutgers University, where he played in 31 games for Bucs head coach Greg Schiano. During his time with the Scarlet Knights, he recorded 60 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries, before his playing career ended prematurely.
On October 16, 2010, in a game against Army during his junior season, LeGrand suffered fractures of two vertebrae and a serious spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. Despite being told that he would be a quadriplegic and resigned to a ventilator, LeGrand persevered and a mere five weeks after the injury, resumed breathing on his own. Later, he even became able to stand upright with the help of a metal frame.
No, LeGrand won’t be on the 53-man roster. He is still paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair. And there won’t be any salary to count against the Bucs’ salary cap. This is a symbolic gesture that Schiano wanted to do for his former player.
“Leading up to the draft, I couldn’t help but think that this should’ve been Eric’s draft class,” said Coach Schiano. “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.”
LeGrand grew up a Denver Broncos fan, but is obviously now a huge fan of the Buccaneers.
“I will always have love for the Broncos, but after this, it really shows something with Coach Schiano with how he had this whole thing planned out,” LeGrand said. “It’s really great. I’m not really sure [if I’ll have a role with the team]. We talked about doing this, but we’ll see what we have in store and what we have planned. I think it was a great idea by him, the G.M. and everyone in that organization to put me as the last man on the roster. It’s incredible.
“I was like, ‘Are you serious? You really want to use this on me?’ He said, ‘It’s the least that we can do.’ I said, ‘Coach, I don’t even know what to say right now. This is amazing.’ It was something I’ve always dreamed of – going to the NFL and retire to become a sportscaster. Dreams can come true if you really believe. If you do the right things in life and good things happen to you. He really did this out of the kindness of his heart.”
The date of the signing LeGrand on May 2 is symbolic due to the fact that LeGrand’s jersey number at Rutgers was 52. LeGrand will also be sent a number 52 jersey and that will be his Buccaneers number through training camp.
“Coach Schiano tries to call me on a weekly basis,” LeGrand said. “Coach Schiano is like a father figure. I was going in to Rutgers as a little boy and I’m coming out a man. He’s the type of person that when you are faced with adversity he’s not going to back down at all. He’s going to make sure you take it [head] on and deal with it. In life you can’t control which cards you are dealt and you just have to deal with them. That’s what helped me in this whole situation.
“It’s hard sometimes when you just want to feed yourself or if you have an itch and you want to scratch it. Sometimes it’s disappointing, but then you think about all the kind of stuff I was taught at Rutgers. It’s not going to last long. That’s what I do. I just go on my daily grind as if I’m preparing for a football game. I don’t know when that football game is going to be, but I’m preparing for it every single day as I go through my rehab.”
LeGrand joins former Rutgers players center Jeremy Zuttah, defensive end George Johnson and newly signed offensive tackle Desmond Wynn on Tampa Bay’s roster.
“It’s cool to have all of us down there,” LeGrand said. “I heard it’s like Rutgers South down there. We have all those Tampa Bay Buccaneers from Rutgers. It’s just our Rutgers brotherhood. It’s our bond together. No matter what we do stuff for each other unconditionally. It’s cool to be back with some of my teammates.”
LeGrand, who resides in Woodbridge, New Jersey with his mother, resumed his studies via video conference during the spring 2011 semester and continued to be an impactful member of the Rutgers football team during his senior year. He made his first return to the football field on October 29, 2011, one year after his injury, leading his team and Head Coach Greg Schiano out onto the field at Rutgers' stadium. LeGrand also joined his fellow seniors on the field for Senior Day festivities prior to kickoff of a win over Cincinnati on November 19.
With the courage and determination shown throughout his rehabilitation, LeGrand's inspirational story has garnered national attention. His return to the football field donned the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2011 year-end issue, as it was voted the magazine's Moment of the Year. LeGrand received the Most Courageous Athlete Award from the New Jersey Sports Writers Association in January and will also receive the Unsung Hero Award at the New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony on June 9 for his representation of courage, strength and character.
“My goal is to walk,” LeGrand said. “I believe this did happen for a reason. My goal is to get up on my feet. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep on fighting. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I know down the road that it is going to happen. If you believe in yourself and you believe in the Man above – anything is legit and possible.”
LeGrand is planning to graduate next fall with a degree in labor studies and most recently partnered with IMG to help in continuing his broadcasting career. You can follow Eric's remarkable recovery through his Twitter feed, @EricLeGrand52
. For more information on LeGrand, visit www.scarletknights.com/Believe/
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