Rutgers' LeGrand signs with Bucs, continues long road back
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, making it to the NFL was always his dream. He had a productive career for the Scarlet Knights, playing in 31 games and recording 60 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries, and with strides in his junior and senior seasons, that dream had the potential to become a reality.
That all changed on October 16, 2010, when late in the game against Army, LeGrand made a tackle that fractured two vertebrae in his neck and left him paralyzed.
Or so he thought.
Following the injury, doctors told him that he would be resigned to a ventilator to assist with his breathing. A mere five weeks later he resumed breathing on his own. He was also told that there was a strong chance that he'd never walk again. Now he is able to stand upright with the help of a metal frame.
While he continues to show progress in his physical therapy with each passing day, nothing could prepare LeGrand for the phone call he received last week from his former coach Greg Schiano, who is now the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I was in shock," said LeGrand. "(Coach Schiano) called me Monday and he just said 'We're picking you.' This is a dream come true for me to go to the NFL."
After being around LeGrand during his time at Rutgers, Schiano knows the type of man he is, and made it a point to make him a part of the Buccaneer family in whatever way possible.
"Leading up to the draft, I couldn't help but think that this should've been Eric's draft class," said 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's story began to garner national attention after he made his return to the football field on October 29, 2011, just a year after his injury, to lead his team out onto the field at Rutgers' High Point Solutions Stadium. A month later he joined his fellow seniors on the field for Senior Day, which helped inspire a Scarlet Knight triumph over Big East rival Cincinnati.
His return to the field graced the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2011 year-end issue and was voted the magazine's Moment of the Year. He also received the Most Courageous Athlete Award from the New Jersey Sports Writers' Association and is slated to receive the Unsung Hero Award at the New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony this June, honoring his courage, strength and character.
LeGrand has always had a great relationship with Schiano, and after all the two have been through in the past year and a half, he is more than happy to continue to be part of his coach's plans.
"It shows the person (Schiano) is, still keeping in touch with me," said LeGrand. "He still calls me every week, once a week. He's been thinking about me and my family since day one. He's been getting me the best doctors, the best care. He's down in Tampa right now, but he's making sure we know that he's not forgetting about my family or me up here. He's like a father figure to me."
LeGrand will never suit up for the Buccaneers, and he is unsure of what his future roll could be, but the organization will surely benefit from his never- give-up attitude and positive spirit.
"I'll meet with (Coach Schiano) soon," said LeGrand, who has no intentions of moving from New Jersey to Tampa. "I've got to talk to them and see what we can do and work some things out. I'm sure he has something planned."
In addition to his rehabilitation, LeGrand is able to continue his studies online and through Skype and he even served as the color commentator during some games last season for the Rutgers' radio broadcast. He plans to graduate next fall with a degree in labor studies and hopes to eventually continue his broadcasting career.
No matter what the future has in store for LeGrand, if he shows even a fraction of the determination and heart he has demonstrated thus far, he's going to be a success. The odds have been stacked against him since the accident, but that doesn't stop him from continuing to defy them en route to his ultimate ambition.
"My goal is to walk," said LeGrand. "I know that down the road it is going to happen."
05/11 10:06:02 ET