More than a year removed from a head-on collision on the football field that left him paralyzed from the neck down, former Rutgers lineman Eric LeGrand will be leading the team onto the same field Saturday for arguably its biggest game of the season.
LeGrand told Yahoo!Sports Tuesday he will be leading the Scarlet Knights out the tunnel for the pregame introductions at High Point Solutions Stadium, where he hopes to give an emotional lift to the 5-2 Scarlet Knights as they make an upset bid against West Virginia. Had the injury not occurred, rendering him unable to play football again, LeGrand would be in the midst of his senior season under head coach Greg Schiano.
“It’s going to happen,” LeGrand said. “It’s official, just talked to coach. It is happening.”
The idea behind LeGrand, who moves about in a motorized wheelchair, leading the team onto the field came from Schiano. This summer, Schiano approached his former player and offered to let him lead the team onto the field before a game of his choosing. After discussing it with his mother, LeGrand picked Saturday afternoon against the Mountaineers, the preseason favorites to win the Big East and a team Rutgers hasn’t beaten since 1994.
“I was thinking that’d be the perfect game, the atmosphere and being on national television,” LeGrand said. “We haven’t beaten them in so long and they’re No. 25 in the nation. This would have been my senior year. I wanted to lead the team onto the field. Those are my guys, my teammates out there.”
The past few days have been poignant ones for LeGrand, who watched Rutgers lose on the road at Louisville on Friday, including the second quarter play where Cardinal defensive back Anthony Conner was hit by the Scarlet Knights Mohamed Sanu. After the play, Conner lay motionless on the field for several minutes as both teams knelt and looked on, the Rutgers team visibly shaken by memories of LeGrand’s injury last October. Eventually, the Conner was transported to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a cervical fracture. He underwent surgery earlier this week and is expected to make a full recovery.
LeGrand reached out to Conner on Tuesday afternoon.
“I was praying for him as I watched him there on the field. I know what it’s like, that feeling, not knowing what was happening,” LeGrand said. “His girlfriend reached out to me on Facebook just to see if I could offer him any advice. He’s a little bit down, his playing career is over but he’s expecting a full recovery so that’s good.”
Right now, LeGrand’s own recovery is progressing. After months of therapy, he posted pictures of himself standing upright for the first time in July. In November, he’s scheduled to begin an intense five-day-a-week rehab schedule, which will run for 24 sessions. He also plans to begin using a body weight suspended treadmill to ratchet up the intensity. His legs and hips will be manually moved on the treadmill to begin the process of getting him to stand on his own two feet again.
“I’m just blessed right now. It’s no good to be down on myself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can’t control what happens to you,” LeGrand said. “I hope that next time I’m on that field at Rutgers, that I will be running when I lead my team out there.”
- – -
Kristian R. Dyer is on Twitter: Follow him @KristianRDyer.