PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Moments after becoming the first player in the 144-year history of Rutgers football to have his jersey retired, Eric LeGrand told a loving crowd that his beliefs haven't changed in the three years since he was paralyzed in a game against Army.
He will walk again.
In a passionate halftime plea to the crowd shortly after the No. 52 jersey was unveiled on the upper level box at High Point Solutions Stadium where the game is filmed, LeGrand asked them to support research to final a cure for paralysis, a cause he has joined by forming "Team LeGrand."
"Help me get back on my feet and walk again," LeGrand said. "Always remember each and every day — believe! It's in me and it's in you guys, too."
Current coach Kyle Flood presided at the start of the ceremony and presented the 23-year-old a sword with the word "believe" inscribed on it.
"A family sticks together and a family stays together and there has been no more important person in our program than Eric," Flood said before heading back to the locker room to address his team after the opening half against Eastern Michigan.
LeGrand had been greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd — many wearing No. 52 jerseys or T-shirts handed out before he game — as his motorized wheelchair took him from a tunnel near the end zone to midfield. Most fans never sat down during the roughly 10-minute ceremony which was interrupted several times by sustained applause.
The ceremony featured messages from former coaches and teammates on the huge scoreboard, starting with former Rutgers and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.
"Keep living the way you are," Schiano said. "You are inspiring all of us."
Former teammate and Buffalo Bills defensive end Jamaal Westerman was as optimistic as LeGrand.
"Can't wait to see the day you walk on the field again," Westerman said.
LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down making a tackle covering a kickoff in a game against Army at the Meadowlands. Cadets coach Rich Ellerson was among those wishing LeGrand well.
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