After a month-long wait since being signed as an undrafted free agent, former Rutgers defensive lineman Eric LeGrand traveled to Tampa and was officially introduced as a member of the team. LeGrand and head coach Greg Schiano, both seated at a table at One Buccaneer Place, sharing stories and admiration for each other during the 15 minute press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday marked a special day for both Eric LeGrand and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization, as the former Rutgers standout met his Bucs teammates and coaches for the first time since signing with the team on May 2. During the first day with his new team, LeGrand attended the morning OTA session and gave his teammates an inspirational speech in the locker room when practice concluded. LeGrand, alongside head coach Greg Schiano, then shared that message with the media.
Schiano first spoke about how glad he was to have the opportunity to bring a person with such great character as LeGrand into the organization and talked about the bond that the two men shared.
“I would especially like to thank the whole Glazer family and Mark Dominik for making this possible,” Schiano said. “This is a guy that I have known for a long time, a guy who played for us at Rutgers and as I said to the team earlier today, long before his injury. With a lot of the notoriety that he has received, this was a guy that came everyday to our football building and had just a tremendous attitude. He was the energizer bunny. No matter how things were going. Hot [or] cold, good [or] bad, this guy was always upbeat. You don’t have to look far to see why.”
LeGrand’s playing career tragically ended in October of 2010 due to a spinal cord injury. Throughout his recovery process LeGrand’s positive attitude has been an inspiration to many people, including Schiano.
“Through this whole time I got to know his mother (Karen LeGrand) really, really well,” said Schiano. “She is as tough a lady as you have ever met. You can see that this is her son. I can remember many times being in the hospital with Eric and the things that he would say to me would blow me away. The kind of selfless guy that he is, worried about me [and] worried about his mom. Meanwhile he is lying in the bed with tubes coming out of his mouth and can’t move. Still to this day as he works painstakingly to recover, he tells me and tells those people that he is influencing that this all happened for a reason. He can have an effect on other people and be an inspiration to other people. I don’t know if this happened to me if I could be the man that Eric is. So as I look at guys and I look at people that should be referred to as heroes, this guy is in my book a true hero and a true inspiration.”
As much of an impact LeGrand will have on the Buccaneers organization this season, the team is having a similar impact on the life of LeGrand as his dream of being in the NFL has come true for him.
“I want thank coach and the whole Tampa Bay organization for even thinking about this whole idea of picking me up and making my dream come true of being in the NFL,” LeGrand said. “I’ve been playing this game since I was five years old and my whole goal was making it to the NFL. When that accident happened in 2010, it all just stopped then. Laying on the field, I didn’t know if I was going to die and that was going to be the end of my life. But you know, it really shows that good things happen to good people and me being the person I am, I wasn’t going to let doctors tell me that this was going to happen – just a bunch of negative stuff. I was just going to fight and be the person that I am and get to where I want to get to.
“I always believe in Coach Schiano’s saying, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way.’ If you believe in yourself and believe in the man above anything is truly possible. That’s what I do every single day in my life. I feel so fortunate to have you guys, who will share my story to millions of people and support me throughout this whole situation because there are people out there that don’t have the support that I have and they need it. I try to help them get through tough times. Talking to everybody, just having a good time, sprucing everybody up, motivating each other and challenging each other to get better every single day. That’s just how I continue to live my life, and I’m out there trying to inspire a whole world of people, and change the world day by day.”
When LeGrand met with his teammates after practice, he shared that same message and provided motivation to the entire team.
“I finally got to meet my team today,” said LeGrand. “It was great to talk to those guys and see how intense they were just actually listening to me talking. These are NFL guys right here, making money playing the game that they love. They were just so in tune to meeting me and seeing them, that really just kept me going through their smiling and just seeing them so in tune to my story and being focused on everything that’s going on through this whole situation. It’s just a pro-grade organization down here, as I continue to fight and get better every single day. Miracles are happening you know, getting on some activity below my level of injury which doctors can’t even explain. But you know, it really is just a blessing from above and we’re going to make something huge out of this and this situation I’ve been through by just being the person that I am.”
LeGrand plans to join his new team as often as he possibly can and will travel back down to Tampa a couple more times this summer. LeGrand will also be with his teammates for the season opener against Carolina, as well as when the team travels to MetLife Stadium to take on the Giants the following week.
There are many ways the Bucs feel LeGrand’s will impact this season – both on and off the field.
"By them just seeing me in this situation, that right there any play that could be their last play [will help them appreciate the game],” said LeGrand. “You always hear about this situation, but you never think it could be you until it actually happen running down the field just making a tackle in the fourth quarter of a game and boom, now my whole life is changed. When they see me, I think it puts it all into perspective that actually saying that any down could be your last down, so go hard on every single play and leave it all on the field and give it 100 percent and make sure you’re the best you can be.
“The main thing I want them to really appreciate is everything that they have. Not too many people can say that they are an NFL football player, getting paid for what they love to do every single day. Go out there and play football and impose your will on somebody else. That is something I always wanted to do. I just want them to really appreciate that. Don’t take things for granted out there that other people don’t have. Just be the person that you are. Be a genuine person. It is not always about the person and how you are on the field. It is about off the field too, and that’s how I try to show my character too. That’s what I try to get across to them. They can do whatever and have all this money to do whatever they want. They can go here and go there, but it is about being a type of person that gives back to the community and helps people out, especially when they are in need.”
LeGrand is not only spreading a positive message, but also acting on his words and doing all that he can to give back in his situation. LeGrand’s first order of business is working with his foundation to raise money for others that share his same situation. LeGrand joined up with the Rutgers Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, IMG, the Bucs and Nike to make the Eric LeGrand Foundation Game jersey for Tampa Bay fans to purchase and all proceeds from the jerseys sold will go to benefiting the Eric LeGrand foundation.
“A lot of people have been waiting for jersey sales and everything to see when they are going to come out. Now I want to officially announce that they will be on the Buccaneers website, www.buccaneers.com, and it will be available in the team shop. You can go purchase them right there. [Proceeds] go to the Eric LeGrand foundation, which is going to help spinal cord research and it will also help people that don’t have the right insurance or the proper equipment that they need in order to improve their recovery. Like the stuff I was fortunate to have through my insurance. That’s what my whole organization is about.
“I’m also going to start a brothers-sisters program to get them up to a few Rutgers games, Tampa games also you know bring them around, get to meet the team, see me in the booth as I do my broadcasting gig. So that’s what my whole foundation is going to be, and that’s what is going to help to start out getting this jersey sale out. So I’m happy to finally say that the jerseys are out there. I’ve been talking about it for awhile. Working with Nike and everybody here at the Tampa Bay organization, they’ve been all putting this together for me. I can’t even explain how happy I am. My dream had come true. Coach Schiano put that together and everyone here. It may not be in the situation that I want to be in, but I can finally say I’m in the NFL. My next goal is to get back on my feet, and that will happen.”–Story by Andrew Scavelli and Eric Dellaratta
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