From the keynote speaker at the New Jersey Special Olympics to Sports Illustrated cover boy, paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand now adds a spot on an NFL team to his list of inspirational accomplishments.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced this morning that they signed LeGrand to a rookie contract following the 2012 NFL Draft.
“To see my name as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, it’s what I’ve been fighting for,” LeGrand said. “... It’s a just a blessing. I’m going to walk in [Hale Center] and see my name one day.”
LeGrand will be reunited with Schiano and many of his old college coaches in a symbolic role with the Buccaneers. No money was exchanged in the contract due to salary cap restrictions, but LeGrand will receive his No. 52 Buccaneers jersey shortly.
“Coach Schiano is like a father figure,” LeGrand said. “I’m coming out [of Rutgers] a man. He’s the type of person, when you’re faced with adversity, he’s not going to back down at all. ... You just have to deal with the cards you’re dealt and that helped me with my whole situation.”
LeGrand and Schiano continue to speak weekly since the former Rutgers head man left his college post for an NFL job this past offseason. But the decision to offer LeGrand a contract came as a surprise yesterday afternoon when Schiano called.
Schiano discussed the idea Monday with LeGrand’s mother, Karen LeGrand, and the two surprised Eric LeGrand with it Tuesday.
“’I don’t even know what to say to you right now,’” LeGrand said, recapping his conversation with Schiano. “’This is amazing. Thank you.’ It’s something I’ve always dreamed about. I wanted to go to the NFL, retire and become a sportscaster. ... He really just did this out of the kindness of his heart.”
LeGrand was injured on Oct. 16, 2010 during a game against Army, suffering a severe spinal injury after an awkward collision during a tackle attempt. He was taken to a New Jersey hospital where doctors determined he was paralyzed from the neck down. He has gradually regained some movement during his rehab.
LeGrand is excited to join former Scarlet Knights Jeremy Zuttah and Desmond Wynn on the Buccaneers roster. Schiano is in the process of trying out many other former players, including safety Ron Girault and wide receiver Tim Brown.
“I heard it’s like Rutgers South down there right now,” LeGrand said. “It’s our Rutgers brotherhood. It’s our bond together. We stick together.”
In his recovery, LeGrand is finished with his walking program after approximately 80 sessions, he said, and is now working to improve his arms and leg strength at Kessler Institute.
Moving to an apartment in Woodbridge, N.J., LeGrand’s goal remains to walk onto the field at High Point Solutions Stadium and lead the Scarlet Knights out of the tunnel.
“I just keep it going every single day and keep on believing, stay on my grind like it was football,” LeGrand said. “... My goal is to walk. I know it’s going to happen. I believe this happened for a reason. My goal is to get back on my feet.”