As Rutgers University defensive tackle Eric LeGrand waited in the tunnel of Highpoint Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, he could hear the crowd growing restless as they eagerly awaited for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to run onto the snow-covered field. LeGrand had made this run many times before, but this was different. This time he led his team onto the field from a wheelchair. Almost a year to the day, LeGrand had suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. As he and his team moved, arms linked, towards midfield, the crowd’s cheers of “52” (his jersey number) rang through the stadium and fans waved signs that read “Rutgers Believes.” Now, almost 12 years later, it’s not just Rutgers that believes in Eric LeGrand, but people all over the world.
On the Banks of the Raritan
Like most kids, Eric LeGrand’s football journey started by playing in the yard of his childhood home. Being one of the biggest and most athletic kids in his neighborhood, he loved the thrill of shedding defenders and scoring. It wasn’t long before he moved from the side yard to the football field. By the time he reached high school, LeGrand’s mix of size, speed, and athletic ability made him a force on both offense and defense at Colonia High School. During his freshmen year, he was called up to Varsity for the last three games of the season. In those three games, he racked up 45 tackles. This performance caught the attention of the Rutgers coaching staff and they offered LeGrand a verbal scholarship as a freshman, an offer he would take two years later as a junior.
In 33 games as a Scarlet Knight, he had 60 tackles and 2.5 sacks. One of the places LeGrand thrived was on the kickoff team. His ability to get around blockers and get downfield on the kickoff made him a weapon in the field position game. It was on a kickoff late in the fourth quarter of a match-up with Army where LeGrand suffered the injury to his C3 and C4 vertebrae that left him paralyzed.
Early on, Doctors told LeGrand’s family that he may never breathe on his own or eat solid food again, but LeGrand didn’t count himself out.
“I don’t believe in never because you never know, between faith, hard work, and stubbornness you never know how strong you really are,” he stated.
In early November LeGrand arrived at the Kessler Institute to begin rehab. By that time his injury was national and international news. While at Kessler he would receive visits from friends, family, and teammates, along with letters from well-wishers from across the world. LeGrand felt that having this support system gave him the responsibility to keep going.
“I got all these people looking up to me calling me an inspiration, believing in me. How could I give up on them? It was very motivating for me” LeGrand told Greater Than The Game.
He added that rehab gave him a new found appreciation for life. He met many others who were struggling with spinal cord injuries who didn’t have the community around them that he had. LeGrand knew he had to do something to bring awareness to spinal cord injuries.
In 2012, LeGrand grew to national fame when he won the ESPY Jimmy V award for perseverance and was drafted by former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also donned the cover of Sports Illustrated as the sports moment of the year when he led the Scarlet Knights Football Team onto the field at Rutgers University.
In 2013, LeGrand partnered with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation as a fundraising partner. Almost a decade later, LeGrand has raised two million dollars for the organization that Is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by advancing innovative research and improving quality of life for individuals and families impacted by paralysis.
In the past 11 years, LeGrand has used his platform to inspire thousands, through his work as a speaker, author, broadcaster, spinal cord injury advocate, and entrepreneur. Last year, LeGrand added coffee shop owner to his resume when he launched The LeGrand Coffee House.
A Cup of Believe
When the world shut down in 2020, LeGrand decided to take the opportunity to expand his brand. He wanted to give people something they needed every day and he knew people needed good coffee. After taking courses and hiring the right team, the LeGrand Coffee House launched its online store in January of 2021 with a brick and mortar location coming in the winter of 2022.
LeGrand wants the coffee house to be more than just a cup of coffee. He wants it to be a place where the community can really come together.
“We want to bring unity to the community with a daily cup of believe. We have our core values and want to put that on some great coffee and inspire people to give that daily affirmation that every morning when they wake up they can drink their coffee and attack their goals.”
Eric LeGrand has shown the world the power of belief in the face of adversity and has a message of hope for those who are struggling through their own challenges.
“Live your life to the fullest. If you believe in yourself and the man above, anything is possible. You are going to deal with some sort of adversity in your life, whether you are five years old or sixty-five years old. How you handle that adversity will ultimately define you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or don’t be afraid to give a helping hand. You never know when you will need it or someone else may need it. Be the best you can be every day.”
That’s it for this post. To view our full interview with Eric LeGrand click the video at the top of the post . If you like what you read, follow us on Instagram or Facebook using the buttons above. To help us create more inspiring content, please donate to Greater Than The Game using the button below…