Written by Anthony Bellano
For the first time in the history of the football program, Rutgers University will retire a former player’s number.
At least temporarily.
As part of its game against Eastern Michigan, the program will retire the number worn by former fullback and defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, coach Kyle Flood announced at the American Athletic Conference Media Day the Hotel Viking in Newport, Rhode Island on Tuesday.
LeGrand’s career was cut short as a junior on Oct. 16, 2010 when he suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down while playing special teams in a game against Army at MetLife Stadium. He regained movement in his shoulders and began to feel sensation through his body in January, 2011, but he's been confined to a wheelchair since his injury.
“He said, ‘I wondered when you were going to do that,’” Flood joked. “He was flattered. I told him it came with a caveat. Eric’s always told me he was going to go back out on that field where that happened some day, get up and walk off it. I told him when he does that, and I know he’s going to, we’re going to un-retire his number, and then it will only be a special number that only certain players can wear.”
LeGrand played for the Scarlet Knights from 2008-2010. He returned to the school following his injury in the spring of 2011, and led the team onto the field in a snowstorm for its game against West Virginia on Oct. 29, 2011.
Following his injury, LeGrand was symbolically signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his former coach Greg Schiano in 2012. He subsequently retired.
According to nj.com, he returned to his hometown of Avenel earlier this year, where he resides in a handicap-accessible home with his mother, Karen.
He’s written a book about his experiences, titled “Believe: The Victorious Story of Eric LeGrand.”
Now, Rutgers, which played in the sport’s very first game on Nov. 6, 1869, and boasts Super Bowl winner Ray Rice among its alumni, will honor LeGrand in a way it has never honored a football player before.
“We started talking about doing this months ago,” Flood said. “We had to discuss when was the best time to do it, and we had to get Eric’s blessing.”
The Sept. 14 game against Eastern Michigan will be Rutgers' second home game of the season. They open the season on the road on Aug. 29, against Fresno State. The home opener is Sept. 7, against Norfolk State.
Since LeGrand’s injury, Flood said only linebacker Khaseem Greene wore No. 52, during a special tribute to LeGrand.Although Flood is only in his second year as the head coach at Rutgers, he said LeGrand has played a big role in his life.
“He continues to be a huge part of our program on a daily basis,” Flood said. “It’s important for me to do this as a coach and as a friend. I’m excited to do this for him and his family.”