In a ceremony that left many at High Point Solutions Stadium feeling a wide range of emotions, former Rutgers linebacker Eric LeGrand became the first player in the football program's 144-year history to have his jersey retired on Saturday.
As covered by an Associated Press report, Rutgers officially retired LeGrand's No. 52 during a celebration in his honor at Saturday's game against Eastern Michigan.
LeGrand, who was paralyzed three years ago from the neck down, was met with a showering of applause and kind words from countless members of the Scarlet Knights family. Current head coach Kyle Flood was there to begin the festivities, along with multiple former teammates.
Flood presented the former standout linebacker with a sword that said "believe." Former Rutgers and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano, who recruited and coached LeGrand at Rutgers, was one of the most prominent figures on a video montage dedicated to the 23-year-old.
"Keep living the way you are," Schiano said. "You are inspiring all of us."
The Bucs coach signed LeGrand to the team last year as a gesture, and the two share a close bond.
Touched by the outpouring of support from those in attendance and elsewhere, LeGrand was obviously emotional when given a chance to address the crowd. Sitting in a motorized wheelchair—LeGrand is still paralyzed and struggles with most basic functions—the outspoken paralysis research advocate implored those in attendance to not stop the fight.
"Help me get back on my feet and walk again," LeGrand said, according to the AP report. "Always remember each and every day—believe! It's in me and it's in you guys, too."
LeGrand suffered his injury while covering a kickoff in an Oct. 16, 2010 game against Army when he collided with the return man head-first. Unresponsive on the field, medical attention rushed to his side and loaded him onto a stretcher, whereupon he was taken to a local hospital. He was diagnosed with fractures to his C3 and C4 cervical vertebrae.
The years since have been a long, arduous process. Though LeGrand's football days were behind him, he's made great progress in his recovery. He has movement of his shoulders and regained sensation throughout his body in 2011.
He's also become one of the biggest paralysis activists on the planet, hosting multiple speaking engagements where he talks about his experience and what people can do going forward. At a post-game press conference LeGrand spoke of grand hopes for the future.
"I'm hearing a lot of great things," LeGrand said. "The doctors are talking about stem cells regenerating the spinal cord. I'm not going to speak for all the scientists, but I'm hearing great things and they all say what they need is the money for the research."
The Scarlet Knights went on to defeat Eastern Michigan 28-10 after the ceremony, shutting the Eagles out in the second half. The win brought Flood's squad to a 2-1 record on the season, Flood's second at the school.
Rutgers helped establish the Eric LeGrand Believe Fund in 2010, which raises money for spinal cord research and help in the former linebacker's recovery.
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