NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Few college football stars understand the role model position they are pushed into the moment they step onto the field. What once was a sport played for the love of the game, turns into more than a full-time job, a constant lifestyle few people understand.
Rutgers University standout Eric LeGrand is not one of those athletes – he gets it.
The Colonia-native understands the concepts of determination and overcoming adversity. On Monday at New Providence High School, LeGrand shared the tragic story of how his prospective on life changed in the blink of an eye.
LeGrand was once a promising defensive player for Scarlet Knights’ head coach Greg Schiano. A two-time All-State defender from Colonia High School, LeGrand had all the potential in the world until tragedy struck on October 16, 2010.
During a Saturday afternoon game at MetLife Stadium against Army, LeGrand was doing what he normally did, lining up for a possible tackle during a kickoff following a Rutgers touchdown that tied the game. This play was different.
As LeGrand made his way towards the Black Knight returner, he lowered his head to make a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. At the same time, a teammate tripped and caused the returned to lose his balance. Instead of a clean tackle, LeGrands’ head hit the Army player’s shoulder, instantly breaking his C3 and C4 vertebrae.
“Greg Schiano came over to me when I was on the ground and said I had to pray,” LeGrand told both the high school and middle school students in separate assemblies. “I prayed for breath. I thought I knocked the wind out.”
LeGrand barely remembers the next three days, as he was in and out of consciousness until Wednesday. It was soon after the moment LeGrand awoke that he found out that doctors said he would never walk or breathe on his own, eat solid foods, essentially do anything a normal college student would be able to do.
“Its like fighting a way that I don’t know when its going to end,” he said.
Luckily for LeGrand, the initial battles ended rather quickly. The days and weeks that followed his catastrophic injury, LeGrand was able to regain the lung capacity to breathe on his own. While his mother Karen or one of his various aides still needs to feed him, LeGrand is eating more than ever.
“My favorite food is cheeseburgers, fries and a milkshake,” LeGrand told 25 students from the two secondary schools during a private lunch on Monday.
Unlike most college athletes who get hurt, LeGrand hasn’t fallen from existence. There is no sorrow, depression or upset feeling over the injury and continuous recovery.
LeGrand has instead learned a lot about himself and life in general since the day his life changed. Monday was his latest stop at local high schools, teaching students about the importance of determination and overcoming adversity. He is also preparing for his fifth annual “Walk to bELieve,” a fundraiser to support his branch of The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation that raises money for spinal cord research.
Even though there is still a long way to go before fulfilling his ultimate goal, LeGrand is determined to overcome this latest challenge.
“I want to go back to MetLife Stadium, lie down in the same spot,” he said, “Get up and walk off the field, saying, ‘ I finished that play.”
For more information on Eric LeGrand’s “Walk to bELieve,” go to his website: TeamLeGrand.org.