Saturday, June 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign former Rutgers DT Eric LeGrand, paralyzed in a 2010 game

TAMPA

For three days last week, Eric LeGrand watched the NFL draft from his motorized wheelchair at home in New Jersey. The former Rutgers defensive tackle, paralyzed making a tackle on special teams against Army in 2010, was excited to see his Scarlet Knights teammate, receiver Mohamed Sanu, selected by Cincinnati. ¶ LeGrand may be currently unable to walk or stand without assistance, but he certainly isn't without feeling. ¶ "This was his class, he would've been in this draft," his mother, Karen, said. "He watched the draft. He didn't let it get to him. But he said to me at one time, 'That could've been me.' " ¶ More than 1,100 miles to the south, Bucs coach Greg Schiano was thinking the same thing.

That's why the former Rutgers coach telephoned LeGrand on Tuesday afternoon and offered him a contract with the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. The team's announcement Wednesday morning of LeGrand's signing read the same as the signing of any college free agent.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced today 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.

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

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, Buccaneers 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? You want to do this for me?' " LeGrand, 21, said in a conference call. "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. … Honestly, it's amazing. It is, it really is."

LeGrand's inspiring story is well documented and gained national attention. For weeks after LeGrand's injury, Schiano, who coached at Rutgers for 11 seasons before being hired by the Bucs in January, would finish practice and drive more than an hour to relieve Karen in the hospital and spend the night by the side of his player. Spinal cord damage and two fractured vertebrae led doctors to believe LeGrand would be a quadriplegic on a respirator for the rest of his life.

But only five weeks after the injury, he 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 team onto the field in the Scarlet Knights stadium. He also joined the team during Senior Day festivities Nov. 19 before Rutgers' win against Cincinnati. 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.

He credits Schiano with instilling many principles that have enabled him to face his injury and fight to recover.

"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.

"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. … 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."

Karen LeGrand learned of Schiano's plan Monday and struggled to keep the secret for 24 hours. The signing is symbolic by nature and no terms were disclosed, but he counts against the Bucs' 90-man player limit and likely will eventually be placed on the reserve/retirement list.

"I'm so moved by Coach Schiano doing this," Karen said. "There's nothing else I can say about the character of that man. He's an awesome person, he's genuine and caring, and for him to do something like this … what a kind act.

"He has a feeling now, what it feels like being signed as a free agent. That means more than anything. … He knows what it feels like after seeing all the other classmates that have been drafted and signed with an NFL team."

LeGrand, who would've been playing in his senior season last year, said he believed he was on the path that would've led him to an NFL career.

"Oh yeah, that was the whole goal," he said. "That's what you work for and dream for. Playing football, I 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 rehabilitation and is able to sit up for 15 minutes at a time. He expects to graduate with a degree in labor studies in the fall of 2013 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."

Comments
Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

TAMPA — There's always a lot of attention on the rookie class this time of year, rightfully so. There's a reason the Bucs focused on defense, and DT Vita Vea, CBs M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and S Justin Whitehead all look like they could have ...
Published: 06/16/18
Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Times wiresVISTA, Calif. – Former Bucs and Hurricanes tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was jailed without bail Friday after pleading not guilty to nine counts of kidnapping, rape and other charges.If convicted on all counts, Winslow, 34, could face...
Published: 06/15/18
Bucs still don’t know when Jameis Winston will throw another pass that matters

Bucs still don’t know when Jameis Winston will throw another pass that matters

TAMPA — The last pass thrown by Jameis Winston in a regular-season game was his best. The perfectly arced, 39-yard strike to Chris Godwin for a touchdown with nine seconds left gave the Bucs a 31-24 win over New Orleans at Raymond James Stadium...
Published: 06/15/18
Bucs busy on next Ray-Jay renovation with East Stadium Club

Bucs busy on next Ray-Jay renovation with East Stadium Club

The first Bucs home game of the 2018 season is still three months off, but the franchise is busy getting Raymond James Stadium ready with the fourth phase of its $160 million renovation, highlighted by a new East Stadium Club.Construction continues t...
Published: 06/15/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Gerald McCoy sounds off

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Gerald McCoy sounds off

The Bucs wrap up minicamp as Gerald McCoy sounds off on the team getting help for him, defensive line coach Brentson Buckner yelling at the veteran defensive tackle and advice for the young players who now have five weeks off before training camp.Plu...
Published: 06/15/18
Gerald McCoy: ‘Stop saying Gerald got help. No, the Bucs got help’

Gerald McCoy: ‘Stop saying Gerald got help. No, the Bucs got help’

TAMPA — On the last day of minicamp, DT Gerald McCoy made it clear that the new additions to the defensive line are what the entire team needed, not just himself."It's not about me. It's about the team," McCoy said of the addition of five new l...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Bucs hit summer break with optimism, eager for training camp

Bucs hit summer break with optimism, eager for training camp

TAMPA — This week's three-day minicamp was the final push in the Bucs' offseason, with about six weeks now until the team reconvenes in late July for training camp and the real preamble to the 2018 season.So what, if anything, can be gleaned fr...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Maybe 2018 is the year the Bucs take that step forward

Maybe 2018 is the year the Bucs take that step forward

TAMPA — The Bucs wrapped up a three-day minicamp on Thursday.“I’m going on vacation,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.The next time we see the Bucs will be in five weeks. Just around the corner. That’s when, official...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow arrested on suspicion of rape, kidnapping

Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow arrested on suspicion of rape, kidnapping

Times wiresSAN DIEGO – Former Bucs and Hurricanes tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was arrested Thursday on suspicion of multiple sex-crimes-related charges, including two counts of rape, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said.The departmen...
Published: 06/14/18
Sealed and delivered: Bucs RB Ronald Jones signs rookie contract

Sealed and delivered: Bucs RB Ronald Jones signs rookie contract

The Bucs' 2018 draft class is now all in the fold, with running back Ronald Jones, second-rounder from USC, signing his rookie deal Thursday.Jones, who won't turn 21 until August after the Bucs go to training camp, was the last of Tampa Bay's eight d...
Published: 06/14/18