Posted: Monday July 16, 2012 12:00AM ; Updated: Monday July 16, 2012 8:28AM
Peter King
Peter King>MONDAY MORNING QB

Guest MMQB: Eric LeGrand on the Bucs, ESPYs and his recovery

Story Highlights

I'm grateful to Greg Schiano, the Bucs for fulfilling my dream of making the NFL

My night at the ESPYs was memorable, and I hope my speech inspired people

A look at my life right now; Nine Things I Think I Think and One Thing I Know

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Eric LeGrand
Eric LeGrand got to realize his NFL dream when the Buccaneers signed him in May.
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI

Peter King is on vacation, so he's recruited some help filling in on Monday Morning Quarterback. In the fourth and final guest installment, Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Eric LeGrand takes the reins.

Growing up in the New York/New Jersey area, you would think that I would be a Giants or Jets fan. But when I was little, none of those teams really stuck out to me. In fact, I don't even remember watching any Giants or Jets games as a child. I played running back my entire life until I went to college, and the way Terrell Davis played the game really stuck out to me at a young age. I wanted to be just like him, which led me to become a Denver Broncos fan all the way out here in New Jersey.

On May 2, I was signed as a free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Greg Schiano, my former coach at Rutgers, accepted the head coaching job there earlier in the year. Playing for Coach Schiano at Rutgers was never an easy thing. Coach loves to work his players and turn them into men -- men who will support their families and be leaders in this world. Everything we did at Rutgers had to be done the hard way, because Coach believed that's how you learn best.

After suffering my career-ending injury, fracturing my C3-C4 vertebrae on October 16, 2010, I never thought I would ever be on an NFL roster. But Coach knew how hard I worked every day of my life, and what my dream was, and once he joined the Bucs he told the whole organization my story and the type of person I was. He then told Malcolm Glazer, the team's owner, that he wanted to sign me as a free agent. They had no problem with it at all, and thought it was a great idea. Coach gave me a call to tell me what the organization wanted to do and I was at a loss for words. I was in such shock that they would actually put me on their roster, even though I couldn't line up for even one down. Eventually, all I could say was, "Thank you, Coach, you made my dreams come true." It really shows that there are still good people in this world, people who would go out of their way to help another person with gestures like that.

People ask me all the time how I think Coach Schiano will do in Tampa Bay. I tell everybody the same thing: He will be just fine down there, he's a very strong-willed person, and he will get everybody in that organization to do it the way he thinks is right. Coach Schiano really believes in the saying "Where there is a will, there is a way," and he will pour his heart out into somebody to guide them in the right direction.

I took a trip down to Tampa last month to visit Coach and meet my new teammates. It felt just like home being down there and seeing how everything was operating, like being at Rutgers all over again. As I met everyone on the team, they let me know Coach is a great guy who does not play around, and I told them that I knew that for a fact based on my experience playing for him. They strongly believe in him and what he brings to the table, as do I. We have a very young team, but also a very talented one, and we are ready to take on any obstacles this season has to bring.

***

My ESPYs experience.

Last week I took a trip out to Los Angeles to attend the ESPY Awards. I had heard that it's a great experience, but actually living it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The people you see on television all the time were now right in front of my face. I arrived last Tuesday, and met Robert Griffin III (who has joined me as a Subway spokesperson this year) as soon as I got out of the car. We had a good conversation about life, then went on with our business. I continued to meet a lot of the ESPN broadcasters I've been watching my whole life, like Hannah Storm. People would come up to me here and there or I would hear whispers, Is that the Rutgers football player? When I hear that, I smile to myself and usually keep it moving unless someone approaches me. When people do, I will always speak to them, because I truly appreciate the support everyone gives me. We went out on the first night, and I had the opportunity to meet many athletes with different types of disabilities. Seeing people in situations similar to mine really inspires me to get better and show that miracles do happen.

I was very busy on the day of the ESPYs, running around doing interviews. But I was also thinking about what I was going to say that night, as I was being honored with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. I never write a speech down, because I like all of my public speaking to come from the heart.

When I got to the red carpet, I finally realized I was at the ESPYs, and my adrenaline began to rush as I saw all the professional athletes and celebrities. I had to ask "What in the world am I doing here?" When I took my seat, I found out I was sitting in front of Lamar Odom and Bruce Jenner. The show was amazing, especially the story of Pat Summitt's life and battle with Alzheimer's disease, which was very inspiring.

At one point, it was time for me to present my speech. I was very nervous. When they called my name I knew I wanted to give the best speech of my life, and to do that I just had to go back in time in my mind, to personally relive the moments I was talking about. I wanted to make the crowd cry, but also realize that I am fighting, and I am still the same person I was prior to my injury.

I haven't watched video of my speech yet, but from all the reaction I got in texts, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as the people at the ESPYs with me, I think it went very well. People told me I was the only topic of conversation on Twitter during and after my speech. That makes me happy, because I am out here trying to inspire people day by day. My Twitter account picked up 30,000 followers in 24 hours. Things really started to get crazy.

At the post-ESPYs after-party, I went from the one being star-struck, to the one causing others to be star-struck. It was a very humbling experience. I tried to catch up with family and friends, but could not find them because of the crowd that began to form around me. Like I said earlier, I always give people the time of day, so I said my thank yous to everybody, but it was great to finally see my family and friends. After a while, my two friends, Brandon Hall and Joe LaSala, and I decided to take a lap around the after-party, talking to everybody -- it took 35 minutes just to get to the bathroom because of all the well-wishers!

It was pretty cool that everyone wanted to talk to me, and I couldn't believe how many people were touched by my speech; it really made me feel special to know that many people were listening to me. I went home late that night with a smile on face knowing I inspired so many people that day. My experience at the ESPYs was amazing, and I plan on going back for many years to come.

 
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