Eric LeGrand was a defensive tackle at Rutgers University until he suffered a career ending spinal cord injury. Since then he has been signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, won the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2012 ESPYs, had his number 52 retired by the Rutgers Football team and was named the Most Influential Person in New Jersey Sports by the Star Ledger.
It has been 6 years to the day since Eric LeGrand suffered a career-ending, and life-altering spinal cord injury while making a tackle on a kick-off late in the game against the Army Black Knights at Met Life stadium. I was on the sideline that game working as a student manager for the Rutgers football team. I had my eye off the field for a moment, but when I heard the impact and the roar from the crowd, I remember immediately turning around and seeing Eric on his back with his legs awkwardly raised in the air. There was a feeling of eeriness like I had never seen before as an athlete or spectator.
When I learned that extent of the Eric's injury after the game, I didn't even know what to say or do. Eric's injury occurred in the middle of my darkest days recovering from my traumatic brain injury. I was constantly feeling bad for myself and struggling to find an identity outside of the sport of football. Eric's injury really hit home hard for me, because we both experienced the two of the worst possible things that could happen to you during a football game. A feeling of guilt quickly came over me during this time because I could still do things that Eric wished he could, like throw the football and lift weights, among a list of countless other things most of the world takes for granted.
Eric's spirit was unmatched in the Rutgers football locker room. His absence had a huge impact on his teammates as they lost all the remaining games left on the schedule. One year after his injury, Eric lead the Scarlet Knights on to the field on a snowy October evening to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers. That moment is one that will impact the rest of my life and I reference it in ever talk I give about my own story of perseverance. As he and his teammates made their way onto the field, Eric's signature ear-to-ear grin was captured in a picture, which was ultimately featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Body language is huge in the game of football. I remember having to count how many times we had our heads down while breaking down game film from the night before. Having your head down showed to the whole world that you had given up and that you were defeated. The coaches at Rutgers preached similar things during practice and looking back, I couldn't agree more. Below is a picture of me, post injury, at the coin toss of my team's last football game during my high school senior year (check out Episode 1 to hear my tale). How would you describe my body language? Personally, I see someone who looks like they are feeling bad for themselves, who has given up and who was defeated.
Looking back on the time between my injury and the night Eric returned to the field against West Virginia, I am embarrassed at how I acted. Fortunately, Eric inspired me to do good with the gifts I was given, not sulk over the ones that were taken away from me. This podcast is my attempt to prevent other athletes from acting and feeling how did by sharing stories of perseverance like Eric's.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to interview Eric, and although I was planning on making this my 52nd episode, I felt that posting today was a more appropriate time. Below are some talking points we cover:
Playing sports growing up and staying injury free
How to handle position changes
The important role of special teams players
Leading up to his spinal cord injury
Moments after his spinal cord injury
Defying the odds
Transition to life after football
Cool experiences he has had since his injury
Lessons learned from playing for coach Schiano
The meaning behind his many tattoos and if he feels them while he gets inked
Eric's thoughts on the kickoff in football
As mentioned before, Eric and I suffered some of the most extreme injuries in sports. However, neither of us regret playing and don't want our stories to take an opportunity to play away from another kid. I hope this episode can add perspective and motivation to your life, it obviously did for me. I also recommend reading Eric's book which takes you through his life as a young kid and through his recovery. Reading it feels like you are sitting in a room talking to him. It had me laughing the whole time. Please show your support to Eric by making a donation at the link below.