LeGrand believes he will walk
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand told ESPN in an interview that aired Friday morning he believes he will walk again.
"I believe it," LeGrand said in an emotional interview conducted by ESPN's Tom Rinaldi. "God has a plan for me, and I know it's not to be sitting here all the time. I know he has something planned bigger for me."
The interview with LeGrand, who remains paralyzed below the neck, was the first glimpse at the Rutgers junior defensive lineman since he fractured his C3/C4 vertebrae while making a head-first tackle in an Oct. 16 win over Army at New Meadowlands Stadium.
On Thursday, Rutgers announced LeGrand had regained movement in his shoulders and is now experiencing sensation throughout his body. In the interview, which was taped at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J., LeGrand confirmed both pieces of news.
"She placed her hand on me," LeGrand said of his mother, Karen. "I was like, 'Wow, I felt that.' That was just a big shock in me. I was like, 'Wow, it's coming back.'"
LeGrand spoke emotionally while positioned in a wheelchair, sharing with ESPN how he felt in the moments after suffering the injury.
"I fell to the ground and my body just went, 'Ding.' That's all I hear, like my bell was ringing," LeGrand said. "My body was stuck. I tried to get up, but I couldn't."
LeGrand said, while lying on the field, that he had "the fear of death" and that he "could pass out and die here."
Rutgers went on to win the game, 23-20, but lost all six of their final games, finishing 4-8.
"I couldn't breathe the way I was breathing and I couldn't move," said LeGrand, who was transported to Hackensack University Medical Center, where he underwent surgery to repair his damaged vertebrae. "When I tried to put the thumbs up, I couldn't do it. It feels like there's a thousand pounds holding it down and it won't move. That's all it feels like basically. When you try to move there's a thousand pounds on you, and you can't move it."
LeGrand's mother, his sister, Nicole, and Rutgers coach Greg Schiano were also interviewed.
"It hurts. It hurts a lot," Karen said. "It hurts for me to have to see him like this, but it also makes me so proud of his strength, so proud of the courage he has, because he's not letting this get him down. He's not letting it get him down."
Schiano, who on Friday held a teleconference to officially announce the hiring of offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, said he hadn't watched LeGrand's interview before speaking with the media. But in the piece, Schiano said he believes "Eric's going to walk again."
"It's a belief that Eric's going to heal," Schiano said. "Eric is going to be his old self."
Speaking publicly for the first time since the season ended, Schiano said an offense that ranked last in the Big East this season should be in good hands under Cignetti, who was dismissed along with head coach Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh last month.
"I don't think it's any secret that I wanted to go back in that direction," Schiano said. "We'll either run the football, throw the ball and get it in the hands of play-makers. And that pro style is what I'm comfortable with, and really what Frank is good at implementing and coaching."
Schiano also said the new offense should benefit sophomore quarterback Tom Savage, who is still deciding whether to remain at Rutgers or transfer. Savage lost his starting job to freshman Chas Dodd last season. Schiano didn't offer many details on the Savage scenario.
"I think we're in the process of working through all that," he said. "As soon as I know, whatever it ends up being, we'll make sure that everybody understands it and is clear with it."
Cignetti has already spoken with both Savage and Dodd to share his philosophy. He said his offense is a hybrid between Bill Walsh's West Coast attack and Don Coryell's Digit System.
"I think this a great opportunity for both young men," said Cignetti, who served as offensive coordinator at Cal and Fresno State in addition to coaching quarterbacks for the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints. "One thing I can offer these young men is I've coached in the NFL. What we're going to do is maximize their potential as a quarterback because we train the quarterback in an NFL system. And it will allow you the best opportunity possible to play in that league."