Eric LeGrand needs a wheelchair to get around, but that didn’t stop the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers from signing the 21-year-old Rutgers student to a contract today, The Star-Ledger reported.
Tampa Bay’s Greg Schiano coached LeGrand at Rutgers, and said his “character, spirit and perseverance” is something the NFL team looks for in all of its players.
“Leading up to the draft, I couldn’t help but think that this should’ve been Eric’s draft class,” Schiano said in a news release, The Star-Ledger reported. “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 became paralyzed after tackling an opponent during a game against Army on Oct. 16, 2010; the impact fractured two of his vertebrae.
Doctors said he may need a respirator to breathe, and would likely never walk again, but LeGrand is defying the odds.
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He was breathing on his own five weeks after his injury, can now sit on his own for about 15 minutes at a time and stands using a metal frame, CNN reported.
His dream was to play in the NFL, and Tampa made that happen by giving LeGrand its final roster spot.
“Honestly, it’s amazing. It really is,” he said, according to CNN.
His contract is purely symbolic; Tampa won’t pay him, but the Bucs are going to send him a contract, helmet and jersey with the same No. 52 he wore at Rutgers.
LeGrand's story has inspired many, so much so that donations pay his tuition.
He is studying labor studies, attending class with help of video conferencing, and said he hopes to graduate next fall.
IMG recently offered him help pursuing a broadcasting career, and Sports Illustrated featured him on its final cover of 2011.
Of course, none of that matters more than walking again, he told ESPN.
“I’m going to keep fighting,’’ LeGrand said. “I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I know it is going to happen.’’
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