NEWPORT, R.I. – Since 1869, Rutgers football produced names from Paul Robeson to Ray Rice but no player has received the honor bestowed upon Eric LeGrand Tuesday by head coach Kyle Flood.
LeGrand will be the first player in Rutgers history to have his number retired by the program. LeGrand’s No. 52, which became a symbol and rallying point for Rutgers after his injury, will be displayed at High Point Solutions Stadium in his honor.
“We’re the birthplace of college football,” LeGrand said. “To have my number retired after everyone who’s played there, Ray Rice, Brian Leonard, all of those greats and people that I don’t even know from the 1800s and 1900s, it’s truly incredible. I never would have thought this would happen. After everything, I appreciate it and understand what it means.”
LeGrand’s retirement, however comes with a twist. With the full confidence that he will walk again, Flood plans to “unretire” LeGrand’s number on that day and turn it into an honor for players to wear.
“I put my life into this sport,” LeGrand said. “I still treat it with passion after my injury. For someone to wear that number someday, I hope it really means a lot to that person when I do walk again.”
During Flood’s announcement, he joked about LeGrand’s response to the honor. With more than 127,000 Twitter followers, keeping the honor quiet was a big challenge.
“This is the coolest thing in the world,” LeGrand said. “I was wondering what they’re going to do with it, if somebody was going to wear it or not. When Coach told me they wanted to do this, I was like ‘thanks Coach. This is incredible.’ This is what I truly wanted. It really is.”
Rutgers will retire LeGrand’s number on Sept. 14 in a non-conference game against Eastern Michigan. His number will likely be displayed on the High Point Solutions scoreboard.
“He’s going to go back to [Metlife Stadium] where it happened and he’s going to get up from that spot and he’s going to walk off the field,” Flood said. “I told him, I said ‘I know you’re going to do that too.’ When you do it, I’m going to unretired your jersey and then that number will become a significant number in our program.”
A select few players remain on the Rutgers roster that played with LeGrand, who suffered his injury during the 2010 season. Even for players that never shared the locker room with him, the decision holds strong meaning.
Junior linebacker Kevin Snyder was a Rutgers commit out of high school when LeGrand suffered his injury but cannot wait to honor him during the season.
“It really is a testament to what he went through and how he’s handling himself and how he’s changing people’s lives,” Snyder said. “He’s still fighting the good fight. It’s been two, three years and he’s still fighting and still believing and I think it’s really good for him.”