Eric LeGrand’s Number First to Be Retired by Rutgers Football
By Elizabeth Grimsley
The football game that had Rutgers pegged against Princeton in 1869 is considered by most to be the first collegiate football game. You would think that such a historic program would have more than a handful of famous players gracing the walls of their hall of fame and numbers scattered along the stadium awnings.
That’s not the case.
Until Sept. 14 at the Scarlet Knights’ game against Eastern Michigan, no number had been retired by the 144-year-old program. But on Saturday one number, No. 52, will now live as the sole retired number in High Point Solutions Stadium.
No. 52 belongs to Eric LeGrand, a defensive tackle who played for Rutgers from 2008-2010 when he was paralyzed in a game against Army on Oct. 16. The injury came on a routine play. LeGrand collided with the ball carrier after a kickoff, was credited with the tackle but didn’t get back up from the grass. He was later carted off the field, only able to move his head.
Three years later LeGrand has regained a lot of movement in his shoulders and arms and can feel throughout his body, and he still hopes to one day be able to walk again on his own. It’s been a whirlwind few years for LeGrand with the highlight coming in the 2012 draft where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him to a symbolic contract as an undrafted free agent — a similar story to that of Georgia baseball’s Jonathan Taylor who was paralyzed in a collision with teammate Zach Cone in a game in 2011.
Since his injury, LeGrand has bee optimistic about his recovery, saying to fans during the halftime presentation, “Help me get back on my feet and walk again. Always remember each and every day — believe! It’s in me and it’s in you guys, too.”
“Believe” is the word that LeGrand lives by and has been living by since before his injury. In the past few years, “it’s been the fuel pushing him past what any doctor predicted and the path carrying to goals unimaginable. Believe has been the difference between who he was and what he has become.” A fund entitled “bELieve” has even been started by the Rutgers Scarlet Knight family with all proceeds going towards LeGrand and his own family.
Even after all he’s been through, LeGrand is keeping a positive mindset — one that he instilled on all of the onlookers at Saturday’s game. No. 52 could be seen throughout the crowd on everything from jerseys to posters. A former teammate of LeGrand’s, Jamaal Westerman, now a defensive end for the Buffalo Bills, shares his same optimism.
“[I] can’t wait to see the day you walk on the field again,” Westerman said. “Now you go down in history. I can’t think of anyone who deserves more to have their jersey retired.”
The game finished on a high note for Rutgers, as the team went on to defeat Eastern Michigan 28-10.
It’s the first and probably one of the last numbers to be retired for the Scarlet Knights. Now the large No. 52 will hang above the upper left box of the stadium forever, and LeGrand will never be forgotten.