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The Eric LeGrand Story: An Inspiration to All
Okay, so you’re probably wondering, who is Eric LeGrand and what did he do to deserve to be honored as the May, Athlete of the Month. To be honest, I had never heard of Eric LeGrand until a few days ago when I saw a news piece about him on the national news. Intrigued, I quickly started reading about Eric’s story, and what a story it is. If you want to read an inspiring tale about how a young and talented athlete turned a tragedy into something positive then read on. For his courage and determination in the face of extreme adversity and for his inspiring positive outlook on life we have selected Eric LeGrand as the May, 2012 Athlete of the Month. Congratulations Eric.
Eric was born in Avenel, New Jersey on September 4th, 1990 and began playing football at a very early age. He was a four year starter for the Colonia High School Patriots football team as both a linebacker and running back and during his senior year was ranked as the no. 21 top middle linebacker prospect in the country by the High School Scouting organizations. His decision to remain in the state of New Jersey to play his college football at Rutgers University was certainly a decision that must have put a smile onto the face of head coach Greg Schiano.
As a freshman at Rutgers in 2008 Eric saw considerable playing time despite his youth and went on to have his best game of the year in a 29-23 win in the PapaJohns.com Bowl game against North Carolina State.
2009 saw Eric play in all thirteen games for the Scarlet Knights as he solidified his position as a defensive stopper while also contributing on kick off coverage teams. Eric finished up this sophomore season with 33 total tackles on defense and led the Scarlet knights with a team high 13 tackles on kickoff coverage.
With his stock rising, 2010 was looking to be the breakout year for the New Jersey native. Playing defensive tackle, Eric and the Scarlet Knights were playing well and off to a 3-2 start when they hosted a game against Army on October 16th. It was during this game at the Meadowlands Stadium that Eric was injured while attempting to make a tackle toward the end of the game. It quickly became apparent that Eric has suffered a severe injury. As Eric lay motionless on the field unable to move but for his head, medics prepared to rush him to the Hackensack University Medical Center. Eric’s football playing career would end on that day and his life was about to take a drastic turn, one that would take him on a journey no one could have foreseen.
The initial reports from doctors regarding Eric’s injury were not good, Eric broke 2 vertebrae and the prognosis early on was that Eric would be paralyzed from the neck down. A few weeks after suffering his injury, Eric was relocated to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, one of America’s leading spinal cord rehabilitation centers. Eric made some amazing progress in those early weeks and by the end of 2010 doctors were able to take him off of the respirator, as he was now able to breathe on his own. By early January of 2011, Eric had made even more significant progress and had regained some movement in his shoulders. Over the next year Eric would continue to make progress through hard work and determination. His ever present smile and his constant sense of optimism despite his challenges have made Eric a shining example of how to handle adversity in life.
On October 29th, 2011, despite still being confined to a wheelchair, Eric returned to the Rutgers University football field to lead Coach Schiano and the team onto the field. It was a moving and emotional day for both Eric and the Rutgers University community. A few weeks later Eric was back on the field as he joined his fellow teammates for Senior Day ceremonies. Eric’s emotional return to the field at Rutgers University was such an uplifting and inspirational moment that it was selected by Sports Illustrated magazine as the 2011 “Moment of the Year”.
Eric continues to make progress in his recovery from his injuries. Today he is his capable of sitting up for 15 minutes on his own and is slowly regaining some movement in his arms. Eric's goal is to someday walk again and his progress has reached the point where he can stand with the help of special medical equipment. Eric resumed his studies at Rutgers University and graduated in the spring of 2014. He has also done some sportscasting for the school since his accident and hopes to pursue a career in the broadcasting field.
Every kid who plays major college football has the dream of one day being drafted and having the opportunity to play in the NFL. Eric was no different and dreamed of playing professional football and then settling into a broadcasting career. Now, through a truly wonderful gesture by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Eric will have the opportunity to fulfill his dream? The Buccaneers used their final draft selection in the 2012 NFL draft to select Eric LeGrande, and on May 2nd, 2012 signed him to the team as a free agent. The master mind behind this wonderful gesture was none other than Greg Schiano, Eric's former coach at Rutgers University, and now head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While his future with the Bucs won’t take Eric onto the field there is the possibility that it could take him into the sportscasting booth someday. Eric is certainly on his way to fulfilling his dreams. Way to go Eric.
For his unyielding positive spirit and determination in the face of adversity. For his upbeat attitude and ability to lift the spirits of all those around him. And for that never ending smile that spreads joy and inspires everyone he meets, we select Eric LeGrand as our Athlete of the Month for May, 2012. Keep smiling Eric, we're all rooting for you.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio