Eric LeGrand with teammates Sanu and Milewski
EWING, N.J. — Paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand’s smile faded just once all night at the New Jersey Special Olympics opening ceremonies. One of the younger athletes asked LeGrand for his autograph while members of the Rutgers football team mingled with fans and he had to decline.
“I can’t,” LeGrand said, explaining to him why he could not sign an autograph.
But if LeGrand continues his inspired path to recovery, autographs are not far away. Since hosting a media session April 25 at his aunt’s home in Jackson, N.J., LeGrand’s recovery process continues to make doctors eat their words.
“I’m a lot better now,” LeGrand told ScarletReport.com. “I can move my arm out to the side. I can move it about 45 degrees to the right and about 30 degrees to the left. I have a lot more movement now.”
With improved arm motion, LeGrand hopes his autograph days will be back soon. In the days immediately following his tragic injury on a kickoff against Army, Oct. 16, 2010 at New Meadowlands Stadium, doctors gave the LeGrand family a diagnosis they did not want to hear.
Doctors said LeGrand would never come off a ventilator, never talk, never eat solid foods and certainly never walk again. Eight months later as the guest host of the New Jersey Special Olympics, LeGrand is long off the ventilator, eating all the solid foods he wants. He spoke about his journey in front of more than three thousand in attendance yesterday at Lions Stadium on The College of New Jersey campus.
“It’s just something you have to believe in,” LeGrand said on the recovery process. “It’s not about how fast I’m going or how slow because I know there is a plan for me and I’m following it. I have made tremendous progress already, but I still have a long journey.”
Rutgers football and the New Jersey Special Olympics have a long-standing relationship. The Scarlet Knights come out annually to support the cause. LeGrand took place in the ceremonies twice before his injury and plans to remain a part of the ceremonies, he said.
LeGrand gave a three-minute speech to the crowd before co-leading in the athlete’s oath to officially kick off the game. He said he does not know where the idea came from, but that it was a good one.
“These kinds of things are important to me,” LeGrand said. “I’m out here enjoying myself and enjoying these athletes’ passion for sports. Obviously now it’s a lot more personal for me. It’s different for me mentally, but I have been coming here my whole Rutgers football career and I know how much this means to them. I’m happy to tell my story to them.”
LeGrand still lives at his aunt’s house in Jackson, N.J., but spends two days per week on-campus for class at Rutgers.
A criminal justice major with an interest in sports broadcasting, LeGrand is enrolled in an African studies class that puts him in New Brunswick with his friends throughout the summer.
“It’s crazy,” LeGrand said. “I’m so happy to be back there on a regular basis. Rutgers is where I want to be and now I’m there. it’s good to see all the places and people I’ve missed since my injury.”
LeGrand said he would like to have a full, four-class schedule in the Fall semester. He wants to be around the Rutgers football team before the season opens Sept. 1 against North Carolina Central.
“I have school to make up for and I’m very happy being on campus during the summer,” he said. “I can’t wait to watch [college football] again. I’m still going to be around [my team] all the time and I still love football. They’re going to surprise people this year.
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano has been in the headlines the past few weeks because of an idea spawned from LeGrand’s injury.
Schiano, preparing for his 11th year as head coach of the Scarlet Knights, wants to explore abolishing kickoffs in college football according to an interview he gave with Steve Politi of the Newark Star-Ledger.
Schiano’s proposal is to replace any kickoff situation with a 4th and 15 play from the team’s 30-yard line. Tweaking may be necessary, Schiano said, but the idea is to allow teams to go for it in a less dangerous fashion than an onside kick or punt the ball away instead of a kickoff, where defenders have a running start. The idea came after LeGrand’s tragic injury on a kickoff play.
LeGrand excelled on kickoffs over the past two seasons for Rutgers.
“It’s something he thought about a lot and I thought about that too,” LeGrand said about getting rid of kickoffs. “Safety is the most important thing. But when I played, that was my thing. That’s what I was best at. I loved being a part of that special teams unit.”
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