TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — To put it mildly, Rutgers' Eric LeGrand was surprised when his former coach called to let him know the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were interested in signing the paralyzed defensive tackle.
"It came out of nowhere," LeGrand said Wednesday after the Bucs announced what Greg Schiano described as a "small gesture" to recognize LeGrand's "character, spirit and perseverance."
Schiano left the Scarlet Knights for the Bucs in January, but the first-time NFL head coach has remained in contact with LeGrand and his family.
"It's a symbolic gesture. They can't give me any money with the salary cap and all that kind of stuff," LeGrand said. "It's symbolic, something Coach wanted to do and I appreciate that. It just shows the man that he is."
Schiano telephoned the player's mother Monday night to inform her of his intention, then broke the news to an appreciative LeGrand in a conversation the following afternoon.
"I said, 'Are you serious? You want to do this?' He said: 'It's the least we could do,'" LeGrand said during a conference call from the apartment he shares with his mother in New Jersey. "I said, 'I don't even know what to say to you right now, Coach. This is amazing.'"
LeGrand, who's still undergoing therapy and pursing his college degree, won't be visiting Tampa any time soon.
The Bucs are shipping a No. 52 jersey to LeGrand, along with a helmet and contract. He expects to receive them by the end of week, when he hopes to post pictures on Twitter.
"It's something I always dreamed about, go to the NFL and retire and become a sportscaster," LeGrand said. "Dreams do come true if you really believe. You do the right things in life, good things happen to you. He really just did this out of the kindness of his heart. It's really what he wanted to do. I had no idea this was going to happen."
The defensive tackle broke two vertebrae and suffered a serious spinal cord injury on Oct. 16, 2010, during a kickoff return against Army. He became an inspiration to the Scarlet Knights, eventually being able to stand upright with the help of a metal frame. He resumed his studies via video conferences for the 2011 spring semester and last Oct. 29 led the team onto the field before a game. He also has done some broadcast work for the school.
"The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men," Schiano said in a statement released by the Bucs.