TAMPA – One of the hardest things Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano had to do when he left Rutgers for the NFL last January was leave Eric LeGrand behind. On Wednesday, Schiano figured out a way to bring the paralyzed former Rutgers defensive tackle to Tampa Bay with him.
Because his character, spirit and perseverance epitomize what Schiano says he’s looking for in his Bucs players, LeGrand was signed by the Bucs as an undfrafted college free agent. The signing comes on the calendar date (5/2) that matches the uniform number LeGrand wore before his career ended prematurely during a game against Army on Oct. 16, 2010.
“Leading up to the draft, I couldn’t help but think that this should’ve been Eric’s draft class,” Schiano said in a release by the Bucs. “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 played in 31 games during his time with the Scarlet Knights, recording 60 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries, before his playing career ended prematurely. He said the gesture came as a total surprise to him.
“It came out of nowhere,’’ LeGrand said during a conference call Wednedsay. “Coach called my mom Monday night – he didn’t tell me until Tuesday around 1 0’Clock, and I was like are you serious?
“He said it’s the least we could do, I don’t even know what to say right now. It was always my dream to go to the NFL, retire and become a sports caster. Dreams really do come true.
On October 16, 2010, in a game against Army during his junior season, LeGrand suffered fractures of two vertebrae and a serious spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. Despite being told that he would be a quadriplegic and resigned to a ventilator, LeGrand persevered and a mere five weeks after the injury, resumed breathing on his own. Later, he even became able to stand upright with the help of a metal frame.
LeGrand resumed his studies via video conference during the spring 2011 semester and continued to be an impactful member of the Rutgers football team during his senior year. He made his first return to the football field on October 29, 2011, one year after his injury, leading his team and Head Coach Greg Schiano out onto the field at Rutgers’ stadium. LeGrand also joined his fellow seniors on the field for Senior Day festivities prior to kickoff of a win over Cincinnati on November 19.