By KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — A student at Edgar Middle School asked Eric LeGrand, a former football defensive tackle at Rutgers University, if he could go back to the tackle that left him paralyzed from the neck down and change anything, would he?
LeGrand said he believes his injury, which occurred during a football game against Army at MetLife Stadium in October of 2010, happened to him for a purpose.
“I don’t like being paralyzed, but honestly since my injury, it’s been a blessing, the places I’ve been to, the experiences,” LeGrand answered as he visited the middle school on Dec. 9.
“I’ll have my day,” he said of his dream to get back on the 25 yard line at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, Bergen County, not necessarily playing football, but to walk, run and/or crawl again. “I hope to reach that point, that’s my aspiration.”
That positive thinking began shortly after the devastating play in 2010 when he mouthed the words, “I’ll be back,” to his hysterical mom, Karen, and sister as he was carted off the field.
LeGrand said he truly believes with advances in technology, he will walk again. And that is how he urged the seventh and eighth graders at Edgar Middle School to carry themselves.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything,” he told the students.
When asked if his outlook on football changed since his accident, he said it has not, adding that he is a diehard Denver Broncos fan.
LeGrand said the play is a risk that he had to take.
Prior to the accident, he was a Division 1 college football player with aspirations of a National Football League career.
“I wonder what football team I would be on, what state I would live in, where would my family be,” he said adding that he would have planned to retire from the NFL for a sports broadcasting career.
However, he said the journey that he has been on would not have occurred if not for what had happened.
LeGrand described the moment of the tackle as if it happened yesterday. As he was running, he was making a decision to either tackle with his shoulder or head.
He decided to tackle with his shoulder, which should have been a routine tackle like he had done on many occasions at Rutgers as well as at Colonia High School, but the circumstances knocked him on his back.
“I couldn’t breathe,” he recalled. “I thought I got a full body stinger and in a few minutes I would get back up again.”
However, in the days to come, LeGrand would learn that he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was told he would never walk again, eat solid food again, breathe on his own and more.
Six years later, LeGrand has regained some movement in his shoulders and sensation throughout his body. He demonstrated to the students he can shimmy his shoulders.
“If someone were to touch my hand, I could not feel if it was sharp, dull, cold, hot, but I could feel the pressure,” he said.
In 2014, he earned his college degree in labor relations from Rutgers University, and he provides insight and commentary on Rutgers University football games during the pregame, show, halftime report and postgame for Rutgers Radio Network.
LeGrand shared his journey through the devastating news of his paralysis to the unwavering support of his family, teammates, coaches, friends and the community as a whole through his ordeal.
He told the crowd that his loved ones put a brave face on when they would visit him in the hospital; however, years later he would learn that they would leave his bedside and bawl their eyes out.
“That’s what I needed [their brave face] at the time to be here [today],” he said.
For the past few years, Edgar Middle School has hosted a variety of speakers in an effort to help students understand cultural diversity.
“This year our focus is on individuals with differing abilities,” said Ed Albanese, a math teacher at Edgar Middle School.
The event was sponsored by the Metuchen Education Foundation.