Eric LeGrand's on-field football career ended Oct. 16, 2010, when he was paralyzed from the neck down after making a tackle on special teams for Rutgers University.
His dreams of playing in the NFL ended that day, but LeGrand still will be part of an NFL roster. His former coach, Greg Schiano, signed him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday to honor LeGrand and help bring attention to the issue of spinal-cord injuries. LeGrand wants to raise money to help find a cure.
"Leading up to the draft, I couldn't help but think that this should've been Eric's draft class," Schiano in a statement released by the team. "This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men."
LeGrand had a media conference call Wednesday to talk about the signing. He was composed, upbeat and deeply appreciative of the gesture.
"It came out of nowhere," LeGrand said. "He told my mom about it I believe Monday night. Didn't tell me until Tuesday. ... I said, 'I don't even know what to say right now. This is amazing, coach, thank you.' Dreams do come true if you really believe.' "
LeGrand is working on his degree at Rutgers and hopes to transition to a career as a broadcaster. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated, and his return to the football field at Rutgers was named the moment of the year by SI's readers. He will not travel to Tampa to get his jersey; the Buccaneers will send everything to him.
In the meantime, LeGrand is focused on his rehabilitation. He said he can sit up by himself once a day for 15 minutes at a time.
"That's exciting for me," LeGrand said. "I just got to keep it going every day and keep on believing."
Schiano's gesture is the type of classy move we don't often see in professional sports, in which business often trumps sentiment. LeGrand's story should be sad, but his positivity throughout his ordeal has inspired so many.