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Knights Under Lights: Eric LeGrand

Former defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was left immobilized on the field after an accident during his junior season, but he turned one of his darkest hours into an inspiring story for the millions of Americans living with paralysis. – Photo by Ice You

In Knights Under Lights, The Daily Targum looks at players who distinguished themselves during their time on the Banks.

In his three-year career with the Rutgers football team, defensive tackle Eric LeGrand became a stalwart player in Greg Schiano's front seven. His impact has been felt both on and off the field, and his incredible story of perseverance and dedication has inspired millions across the country.

LeGrand wasted no time making a name for himself on the Banks, suiting up for all 12 of the program's contests in his freshman season and appearing in eight. In his program debut against Morgan State, LeGrand totaled two tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in what proved to be his finest performance of the season.

Though he rarely stuffed the stat sheet, LeGrand was a consistent contributor to Schiano's defense, which led the Scarlet Knights to an 8-5 record and a PapaJohn' Bowl berth. LeGrand recorded three solo tackles as Rutgers defeated North Carolina State 29-23

As a sophomore, LeGrand took a massive step forward and became one of the defense's best players and a force on the interior defensive line. His production skyrocketed as the second-year man notched 33 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and even returned a kickoff in the team's regular-season finale against West Virginia.

The Knights would finish the year 9-4 and advance to the St. Petersburg Bowl against UCF, where they easily dispatched the Golden Knights 45-24. LeGrand made a habit of playing his very best when the lights shined brightest and produced a two-tackle and one-sack performance in the most important game of Rutgers' season.

As a junior, LeGrand was well on his way to another stellar season manning the defensive interior when tragedy struck. In the team's October matchup with Army, LeGrand collided with kick returner Malcolm Brown and injured his spinal cord at the C3 and C4 vertebrae. 

LeGrand was left motionless on the field following the hit, and doctors later informed the budding star he was paralyzed from the neck down. Before it had even begun, his professional football career was over.

With all odds stacked against him, LeGrand found the strength to both shatter every expectation his doctors had for him and maintain a positive attitude. With LeGrand's dedication and work ethic, he regained feeling in his upper body by January 2011 and was seen standing upright that summer on social media.

He resumed his usual academic duties through Skype calls, then led the Knights onto the field at SHI Stadium on Busch campus that fall. Despite a pounding snowstorm, fans instantly recognized the former star, and chants of "52," LeGrand’s former number, rang out as the Rutgers football team reached mid-field.

In 2012, Schiano was hired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and signed LeGrand as an undrafted free agent. It was a moment that proved far more than a mere gesture for the Knights' legendary coach and for LeGrand, who fulfilled his dreams of becoming a professional athlete.

Though his playing career was over, LeGrand remained at Rutgers and graduated in 2014. In the years since, he has become an author, entrepreneur, sports analyst and motivational speaker, and he was inducted into the Rutgers Athletics Hall of Fame in 2020.

LeGrand's story should serve as a reminder that anything is possible, words echoed by the former player himself in a speech to his graduating class. With hard work and determination, LeGrand turned one of his darkest hours into a lifetime of hope and inspiration for the millions of Americans living with paralysis.

There are many former Knights who exemplify what it means to "Keep Chopping," but there is no better example than Eric LeGrand.

For more updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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