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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

LeGrand's spirit inspires new Bucs teammates

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 04:44 PM
TAMPA -

Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin was feeling a little down about the hamstring strain that has limited his time on the field this offseason.

Then he met Eric LeGrand.

A former Rutgers defensive tackle who was paralyzed in a game two years ago and was signed as a gesture of good will by the Bucs in May, LeGrand met his new teammates before their workout at One Buc Place on Tuesday, and his comments immediately resonated throughout the team.

"Compared to him, my hamstring is nothing," Martin said. "It's just so impressive what he's been through and with my hammy, I mean, I just have to put that behind me and go."

Fighting through adversity and remaining mentally strong no matter the circumstances were the key notes of the pre-practice speech made by LeGrand, who also used his visit to Tampa to kick off a charitable initiative.

In an effort to help others, the Bucs are selling replicas of LeGrand's No. 52 jersey on buccaneers.com for $99.95 each, with all proceeds going to the Eric LeGrand Foundation for spinal cord research.

"The sales will help people that don't have the right insurance or the proper equipment that they need to improve their recovery," said LeGrand, 21. "That's what my whole organization is about.

"I'm also going to start a brothers and sisters program to get (participants) up to a few Rutgers games and to a few Tampa games, and have them meet the team and be with me in the booth as I do my broadcasting gig (at Rutgers)."

LeGrand was a 6-foot-2, 275-pound junior when he fractured two vertebrae and suffered severe spinal damage while attempting to make a tackle at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Oct. 16, 2010.

He was initially told by doctors that he would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life and have to breathe through a ventilator, but five weeks later, he was breathing on his own again.

LeGrand has since improved to where he can stand up with the help of a metal frame and sit up without assistance for 15 minutes.

And he does it all with an attitude and work ethic that, according to former Rutgers and current Bucs coach Greg Schiano, has not been blunted by the misfortune that has befallen him.

"When he was at Rutgers, he was the Energizer Bunny," Schiano said. "No matter how things were going — hot, cold, good, bad — this guy was always upbeat. And you don't have to look far to see why.

"I remember many times being in the hospital with Eric and the things that he would say to me would blow me away. The kind of selfless guy that he is, he's worried about me and worried about his mom.

"He can have an effect on other people. He can be an inspiration to others. …So as I look at people that should be referred to as heroes, this guy is, in my book, a true hero and a true inspiration."

LeGrand certainly inspired his new teammates. In addition to Martin, third-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and veteran offensive lineman Carl Nicks found inspiration in his message.

"We always complain about a bunch of nothing, and a guy has had the sport he loves taken away from him completely and he is as happy as he's ever been," McCoy said.

"It's crazy to me how this guy is smiling all the time," Nicks said. "Anytime we're out there at practice and it's hot and you don't want to be out there, I'm just going to think about him from now on."

That's precisely what LeGrand wants. The objective of his message was to remind teammates how lucky they are.

"I want them to really appreciate everything they have," said LeGrand, whose contract with the Bucs does not pay him a salary. "Not too many people can say they are an NFL football player getting paid for what they love to do every day.

"To go out there and play football and impose their will on somebody — that is something I always wanted to do. So, I just want them to appreciate that and not take things for granted that other people don't have."

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