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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs sign former Rutgers DT Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed in a game vs. Army in 2010, as gesture from Schiano

As Bucs coach Greg Schiano was preparing for the NFL draft, his thoughts kept drifting to Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed during a game in 2010 against Army.

"Leading up to the draft, I couldn’t help but think that this should’ve been Eric’s draft class,” Schiano said.

So on Tuesday, the Bucs signed LeGrand to a contract as a gesture by Schiano.

"This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance,'' Schiano said. "The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men.”

The release was distributed by the Bucs Tuesday morning and read the same as the signing of any college free agent.

"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced today that they signed college free agent DT Eric LeGrand. LeGrand joins the Buccaneers from Rutgers University, where he played in 31 games. 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.''

LeGrand, who is finishing up his studies at Rutgers and hopes to become a broadcaster, was stunned by Schiano's decision to offer him a chance to sign with the Bucs.

He said a No. 52 jersey, Buccaneeres helmet and contract are being shipped to him in New Jersey. Not coincidentally, LeGrand was signed on May 2, or 5-2.

I said, “Are you serious?' LeGrand said in a conference call Tuesday. "You want do this for me?’ He said, “It’s the least we could do.’ I said, “I don’t even know what to say to you right now, coach. This is amazing. Thank you.'

"This is something I always dreamed about, to go to the NFL and retire and become a sportscaster. Dreams do come true if you really believe. If you do the right things in life, good things happen to you. He did this out of the kindness of his heart where he just wanted to do it. I had no idea, no idea this was going to happen. And look, just being the person I am working hard every day, just trying to help other people out, things like this happen to me. Honestly, it’s amazing. It is, it really is.''

LeGrand's inspiring story is well documented and gained national attention. LeGrand fractured two vertebrae and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. Doctors told him he would most likely be a quadriplegic and resigned to a ventilator, but only five weeks after the injury, LeGrand was able to resume breathing on his own. Eventually, he was able to stand upright with help from a metal frame.

On Oct. 29, 2011, one year after his injury, LeGrand led the Rutgers football team onto the field in the Scarlet Knights stadium. He also joined the team during Senior Day festivities prior to Rutgers' win that year vs. Cincinnati Nov. 19.

LeGrand was on the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2011 year-end issue and his return to the football field was voted the magazine's Moment of the Year.

After the injury, Schiano would coach his team at Rutgers during the day and make the more than one hour drive from Piscataway to Hackensack, N.J., to sit with LeGrand overnight at the hospital and relieve his mother, Karen. LeGrand considers Schiano a 'father figure.'

"You know, I was going into Rutgers as a little boy and I’m coming out a man,'' LeGrand said. "He’s that type of person. When you’re faced with adversity, he’s going to say you’re not going to back down at all. He’s going to make sure you take it front on and deal with whatever the situation is. In life, you can’t control what cards you’re dealt and you’ve just got to deal with that card you’re dealt. That’s what helped me through my whole situation, just living on a daily basis.

"It’s hard sometimes when you want to feed yourself or you have an itch and you want to scratch yourself, sometimes it’s disappointing. Then you think about all the kinds of stuff coach Schiano taught us at Rutgers and you just kind of fight through it. It’s not going to last long. Tough times don’t last, only tough people do. That’s why I do, I just stay on my daily grind. I take this 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’m going through my rehab.''

LeGrand beleived he was on the path as a player at Rutgers that would've eventually led him to a playing career in the NFL.

“Oh yeah, that was the whole goal,'' LeGrand said. "That’s what you work for and dream for. Playing football, always wanted to get to the NFL and believed I had a good shot at it. Unfortunately, the injury happened but it was a fortunate thing that I was able to help a lot more people out there in the world not playing football than if I was playing.''

Now LeGrand's goals have changed. He said he's progressing with his rehabiliation and is able to sit up for 15 minutes at a time. He expects to graduate with a degree in labor studies at Rutgers next fall and has partnered with IMG to continue his broadcasting career. He recently helped call the Scarlet Knights' spring game.

Oh yeah, and he plans to walk again.

“My goal is to walk,'' LeGrand said. "I know it’s going to happen. I believe this happened for a reason. My goal is to get back on my feet. That’s what I’m going to keep on doing, I’m going to keep on fighting. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I know down the road that is going to happen because if you believe in yourself, if you believe in the Man Above, anything is possible.’’

LeGrand's recovery can be followed through his Twitter feed, @EricLeGrand52.


[Last modified: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 11:09am]


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