Rutgers' LeGrand refusing to let injury tackle dreams

Rutgers' LeGrand refusing to let injury tackle dreams

Rutgers' LeGrand refusing to let injury tackle dreams
From standardized tests to 40-yard dash times, the fast-paced qualifiers of life and football are quite similiar in nature.

Some achieve their endgame -- or reach the end zone -- with exceptional ease. For others, however, life's collision course uncorks a hellacious hit from which it is difficult to recover.

The aforementioned inequity tragically took the field during the Rutgers Scarlet Knights' overtime victory against the Army Black Knights at the Meadowlands Stadium in October 2010.

The triumphant coach that day, Rutgers' Greg Schiano, did not exit the New York Jets and New York Giants' home wearing even the smallest semblance of satisfaction on his face. In his postgame news conference, he had eyes that evidenced an overpowering concern for the well-being of Eric LeGrand, a Scarlet Knights defensive tackle who had suffered a spinal cord injury on a fourth-quarter special teams play gone wrong.

LeGrand's prognosis appeared grim in the days following his devastating football-field fall, as doctors predicted he would never again breathe without the help of a ventilator. Forget walking, the medical experts said. But over the past year, LeGrand has proven to be as tough off the field as he was on it, standing up to teach an entire community that anything is possible when a man has faith in himself.

Since the accident, LeGrand has made progress in rehabilitation while also launching a burgeoning broadcasting career with the Rutgers Radio Network.

And on Saturday, a little over one year after his accident, LeGrand was on the field when his team faced Army for the first time since that fateful game in 2010. This time, however, the action went down at Yankee Stadium, the home of sports' most-storied franchise.

Although LeGrand did not make any tackles on the Yankee Stadium pitch, he acted as a galvanizing force in the Scarlet Knights' 27-12 win. Sporting his No. 52 jersey, LeGrand was one of Rutgers' captains and participated in the pregame coin toss.

Speaking with reporters following the contest's first quarter, LeGrand said he "was ready to put on that helmet and run down on that kickoff."

The helmet LeGrand was referencing was made special for this game and served to honor "all our armed forces, both overseas and back here, back home," said Schiano earlier this week. The helmets, a solid white with a red, white and blue "R" on the side, were also a tribute to a squad that has spent the past year doing what it does best by going above the call of duty for a fallen friend.

"The class that [the Black Knights head coach] Rich Ellerson and the Army football program showed towards Rutgers in this last year has been incredible," Schiano said.

"When Eric got injured in that game, Rich Ellerson and his entire football team stayed in constant contact, whether it be through notes, the whole team wrote him notes at one point, gifts, Army memorabilia, things that were special to them that they gave, have in Eric's room, to even as late as this summer coach Ellerson and members of his team coming down to our stadium club and having lunch with Eric."

One Black Knight who has developed a bond with LeGrand over the past year is running back and team captain Malcom Brown, the man LeGrand was trying to tackle when his life changed forever.

"It was good, he came up to me and said: "Hey, how are you doing,'" LeGrand said of his pregame meeting with Brown, who was at the coin flip.

Make no mistake: LeGrand was no figurehead of the football field Saturday. The man who has spent the entire season lighting up the ears of his Rutgers Radio Network listeners has watched his courage transcend the airwaves.

"I can't tell you how many people I have been able to touch this year," he said. "It's been a fast year."

Rutgers may have triumphed during the first Yankee Stadium football game of 2011. But because of Eric LeGrand, everyone involved came out a winner.

Zachary Finkelstein is an editorial producer for MLB Advanced Media This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.