Everyday people complain. Complain about price of gas. Complain about running late to work. Complain about the electric being too high. Just complain about life in general. We all do it. Everyday. But when you realize the struggles former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand deals with on a daily basis, you find yourself embarrassed, maybe even a little ashamed, and silently saying a prayer to whatever higher power you might believe in.
Wednesday, when the press release came out, that the Buccaneers had added LeGrand it was hard not to smile. Heck, it was hard not to feel a lump in your throat.
Things happen for a reason, as some people like to say, but usually the ones offering that sage advice are ones who haven’t been hit with struggles or tragedy.
Try telling LeGrand everything happens for a reason as he was lying on the turf motionless, unable to move his body that afternoon two years ago. Try telling him that when doctors explained to his family that he was confined to a life on a respirator. Try telling him that when the feeding tube went in. Things do, in fact, happen. But for a reason?
And while the gesture to sign LeGrand might make people feel good for a while, and be proud of their football team, for LeGrand the struggle is every day, every second, of every hour.
“It’s hard sometimes when you just want to feed yourself or if you have an itch and you want to scratch it,” LeGrand admitted to the media via a conference call Wednesday. “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 admitted that watching the NFL Draft was tough on him.
“When I was watching that draft, everything just came down on me,” LeGrand said. “This was the year. This was what I’ve dreamed about since I was five years old. This was the day. And you saw those kids going across the stage; I thought about what I could have done and where I could have had my name called. And said ‘Damn, I miss football.’ It’s the game I love. It’s the game that taught me the game of life, basically. Seeing that draft hit on a lot of stuff.”
But a man who has become more than a football coach to LeGrand since that October afternoon in 2010, helped ease the pain just a bit, when a phone call from his former Rutgers head coach, Greg Schiano came in Wednesday morning.
“I was in shock,” LeGrand said. “All my friends asked me if I was going to be drafted. I told them I think they all need to be worried about their other picks. He called me Monday and he just said ‘We’re picking you.’ At first we had just started talking. I want to draft you and pick you up as a free agent. I was just like ‘Really? You’re just going to waste a pick? You have a 90-man roster. You’re going to pick me as that?’ And he said yes, this is something they want to do. He’d talked to the GM; he’d talked to everybody. This is a dream come true for me to go to the NFL. The circumstances, yeah, but I’m there.”
Schiano talked about what went into the decision.
“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.”
The day Schiano was hired as the Bucs head coach, the media had a chance to talk to him after the press conference. Someone brought up LeGrand. His tone changed. His eyes went off in the distance. And the pain of what happened to LeGrand came through in his voice. Pausing a few times to contain his emotions, Schiano talked about the bond he shared with his former – and now once again – football player.
“That’s a life-changing event, for sure, and I don’t wish it upon anybody,” Schiano said. “It’s one of the toughest things to go through as a family, a coach and certainly for Eric as an individual. At the beginning that was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, emotionally and physically, because I wasn’t sleeping. I didn’t want to cheat the team, but I wanted to make sure I was [at the hospital] every day. I gave Karen [LeGrand’s mother] a rest, so she’d wait for me. I’d get there and sit with him in the middle of the night and get some rest and then she’d come take over or her sister would take over.
“But [Eric will] tell you that he thinks everything is happening for a reason and that he’s an inspiration for a lot of people. That’s what makes him the unbelievable guy that he is.”
LeGrand will never play a down of football again. He will never lace up his cleats, study a football playbook, go through practice drills or ever sack a quarterback again. But what he will do is continue to inspire. And while the signing of LeGrand was an amazing moment in sports, maybe the biggest impact will be the attention it draws to those who struggle with paralysis or even a debilitating disease. People need hope, and LeGrand’s story does just that – it gives hope.
LeGrand was never supposed to breathe on his own, but a year later he was able to have the respirator removed. LeGrand was never supposed to be able to stand; yet today, with the aid of a brace, he can – albeit for just a few moments at a time.
And LeGrand is never supposed to walk again. Are you going to tell him no? My money is on LeGrand.
“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 told 1010’s J.P. Petersen Wednesday his goal isn’t to just lead the Buccaneers out of the tunnel one day, but to lead them out on his own two feet.
The NFL is clear on their “No cheering in the press box rule.” But the day LeGrand walks out onto the turf at Raymond James Stadium, I will break the rule.
In fact, come revoke my credential now. I will be on my feet, clapping with watering eyes, witnessing a miracle that may have been spurred on just a little more by a simple gesture that took place Wednesday when Schiano asked LeGrand to become a Buccaneer. A gesture that not only gave hope to just LeGrand, but anyone who has ever faced what appeared to be a hopeless end.
LeGrand – with the help of Schiano – didn’t allow the book to be finished, but instead, added a few more chapters.
Class move, Coach Schiano. Buccaneer fans and anyone with a heart – or a struggle – applauds you.
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