Alan Dell

Commentary | Eric LeGrand's presence at One Buc Place provides badly needed inspiration for franchise

TAMPA

Time will show that Eric LeGrand is the most valuable player the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise has ever signed.

He doesn't come cheap, not in the real sense of the word.

LeGrand has paid a heavy price. The former Rutgers defensive lineman has been paralyzed since the ill-fated day on Oct. 16, 2010, in Giants Stadium against Army.

He suffered a spinal cord injury that took away his ability to move his legs and arms. But he has become one of the country's biggest movements.

"Good things happen to good people," LeGrand said Tuesday at his introductory press conference wearing his No. 52 Tampa Bay Bucs jersey.

At the behest of new head coach Greg Schiano, the organization signed LeGrand to a contract last month.

No money exchanged hands when LeGrand put his name on the contract, but this symbolic piece of paper that bears his signature is worth a lot in many

ways. Since the May 2 signing, the Bucs have already reaped rewards.

The relationship between Schiano and LeGrand has become priceless. Schiano was the head coach at Rutgers when the injury occurred and has gone above and beyond what anyone would've had a right to expect.

Nearly every day since the injury, Schiano spent time at the hospital, where LeGrand lay motionless and doctors were proclaiming doomsday.

But LeGrand baffled those doctors with his recovery and is in a position to inspire others, though don't think for a second he wouldn't want to get up from that chair.

"I can remember many times being in the hospital with Eric and the things he would say to me that would blow me away." Schiano said. "He was worried about me and worried about his mom and meanwhile he was laying in the bed with tubes hanging out of his mouth, can't move and still to this day he tells me that all this happened for a reason and he can have an effect on other people.

"This guy in my book is a true hero and a true inspiration. He was like this before his injury. He was our Energizer bunny (at Rutgers). No matter how things were going this guy was always upbeat."

LeGrand is needed at One Buc Place. There are few, if any, inspirations on the roster despite Schiano trimming all the cancer and dead weight from the body Buc.

Remember all those missed tackles last year? How can a Bucs defender come off the field after going through the motions of tackling someone and look LeGrand in the eye. This new No. 52 is tackling more than any of them will encounter in a lifetime and not backing off.

LeGrand spoke to his teammates, who were there for Tuesday's OTAs, in a talk that touched everyone in the locker room.

"All the things that he has been through, to see him when it first happened to now, his outlook on life. It really makes it so that anybody else, you can't complain about anything," second-year linebacker Mason Foster said. "He is going through this and he's still really positive. It makes you want to just wake up and work hard."

Schiano and his no-frills style of coaching is making everyone work harder at this former NFL country club. But it's a lot easier to get the players to buy in when LeGrand is there wishing he could get out of his chair and slug it out with them.

This kinship between Schiano and LeGrand is special and says a lot about Schiano, the man. As a coach he will ultimately be judged by the scoreboard, but as a human being he is hall-of-fame material.

Schiano has that Jersey hard-knocks demeanor, but LeGrand makes all that melt away. What players wouldn't want to give everything they have for a guy like him.

LeGrand is proof anything is possible, and that's what needed from these Bucs. His initial prognosis was horrifying with doctors saying he would not be able to talk again and breathe without an artificial mechanism.

"Now I am at a press conference with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's a blessing, and I've just got to keep on fighting until I get where I want to get to," LeGrand said.

He intends to put his jersey up for sale and use the funds to start the Eric LeGrand Foundation that would help advance spinal cord research and provide aid to injured people.

In the meantime his presence should bring the Bucs a few more victories.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.

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