PISCATAWAY – At this point, much of Rutgers’ football team doesn’t know Eric LeGrand personally. Those that were teammates with LeGrand when he was paralyzed from the shoulders down while making a tackle on a kickoff return against Army at MetLife Stadium on October 16, 2010 are few and far between.
Many on the team now were recruits at the time. So the Eric LeGrand they know isn’t the same Eric LeGrand his former teammates know.
As Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood put it, “Eric’s a rock star.”
Which isn’t too far off. Since his devastating injury, LeGrand has won an ESPY, written an autobiography, appeared in Subway commercials and on the cover of Sports Illustrated and is a co-host of the Kyle Flood radio show and a color commentator during Rutgers football radio broadcasts.
“I see more of the celebrity aspect. I haven’t really gotten to meet him or talk to him in person,” redshirt freshman Ian Thomas said. “So hopefully this upcoming week I will.”
Thomas will get his chance Tuesday with the rest of the team as LeGrand will address them before he gets his No. 52 jersey retired at halftime of the game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
Prior to that, the younger players know LeGrand from what they’ve heard. To Flood, it’s a person who didn’t let his injury change him.
“The most important message or the most important thing I try to say about Eric when people ask me questions about him is, Eric was every bit as inspirational, before anything happened,” Flood said. “He was one of the first players who committed to his year in the recruiting class, and from the moment he stepped on our campus, he was a huge part of the athletic department, not just the football team. You would see him at soccer games; you would see him at lacrosse games, and certainly when he was playing football, he played with tremendous enthusiasm before the game.
“And all those characteristics about Eric, he’s continued to have them, even now. And that, to me, is really the best thing I can tell people, because it’s not something that just started that day in Giants Stadium.”
Flood will spend some time at the half time ceremony honoring his former player before going in to address his current team. He said there will be “a little surprise in store” for LeGrand. However, one thing that doesn’t surprise Flood is the celebrity status LeGrand has now attained.
“Eric’s the kind of person that you feel better when you’re around him and that has always been the case. Not just in recent times,” Flood said.
“From the moment that he committed to Rutgers football and became a part of the family here, he was just somebody that he’s like a people magnet and everybody is drawn to him and he’s got agreat personality, and he’s got a great way about him on the radio, and he’s getting better and better at doing that as his career goes along….Just from a talent standpoint and a personality standpoint, he was built to be out in front of things and in front of the camera.”
And an integral part of Rutgers’ football program.
“He’s been so inspirational to our program, both before and after his accident,” Flood said, adding, “I know everybody is going to be excited to see Eric on the field; I know I am, and I’m looking forward to a great day with Eric as he continues to be a huge part of our program.”