LeGrand's No. 52 to Be Retired Saturday

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand's number will be retired by the program Saturday in honor of his courage and inspiration after a 2010 injury left him paralyzed. LeGrand has his own message to share to the 52,000-seat Stadium with a speech ready for halftime.

The last time Eric LeGrand took the field at High Point Solutions Stadium during game-day activities, it became the Sports Illustrated moment of the year. LeGrand led Rutgers out of the tunnel through a snowstorm against West Virginia in the final meeting between the two rivals.

On Saturday afternoon, LeGrand's next on-field appearance projects to blow it out of the water.

LeGrand will be the first person in more than 140 years of Rutgers football to have his number retired, and the ceremony is set for halftime of Saturday's game against Eastern Michigan.

"It's starting to kind of hit me now as I was practicing my speech today," LeGrand said. "I was just thinking about what's going to happen that day and all of the things people are planning and not telling me about. You know I hate surprises and not telling me about it. It's starting to finally hit me. It's coming up."

LeGrand's No. 52 became a symbol for the program after a 2010 injury against Army left him paralyzed and fighting for his life. Now three years into his rehabilitation, LeGrand wants to help fight for others' lives as well through his charity.

In what his teammates would call "typical Eric fashion," LeGrand plans to take some of the attention off himself Saturday by trying to help others.

"It's going to be a great day," LeGrand said. "I have a great message I want to get across to everybody, all the Rutgers fans when I get out there at the press conference beforehand. I'm definitely really excited."

LeGrand plans to keep the details of his announcement a surprise for the public Saturday.

The retirement ceremony for LeGrand is the brainchild of second-year head coach Kyle Flood, who was the offensive line coach at the time of the injury at MetLife Stadium. Flood announced the decision to retire LeGrand's number during the summer with a twist.

A believer that LeGrand will walk again, Flood plans to un-retire the No. 52 at that time and use it as a symbol for special players in his program.

"I hope he speaks about how special it is to be a Rutgers football player," Flood said. "I've heard him say that to the team in the past, but this is a little bit of a different group. It's a little bit of an unknown for him as well, so I'm just as curious as you are."

Only 25 players remain on the active Rutgers roster from the time LeGrand suffered his career-ending injury. But those that did share a locker room cannot get through a sentence without smiling.

LeGrand was known for leadership and passion and the guys that played with him cannot wait to represent him Saturday against Eastern Michigan.

"I think this is a huge opportunity to say thank you for everything and not just about my number," LeGrand said. "I also get to update everyone on what I'm going to do moving forward and ways for the Rutgers community to still stay involved with what I'm doing with my foundation. I'm hoping everyone still supports me through that."

LeGrand's message will include information about the direction of his charity – The Eric LeGrand Patriot Saint Foundation.

Of the 25 remaining teammates on the roster, few were closer than fifth-year senior defensive lineman turned guard Antwan Lowery. Lowery suited up next to LeGrand in the locker room for two years and practiced in his position group.

"I know I'm going to shed some tears," Lowery said after today's practice. "We're close. My brother and I were there in 2010 when he went down. I still keep in contact with Eric. I wear his bracelet every day -- never take it off. He is a big part, a big inspiration in my life."

Charlie Noonan spent the first half of 2010 in an ongoing position battle for the starting nose tackle job against LeGrand. Noonan played almost every snap of the season after LeGrand's injury before a short stint with the Philadelphia Eagles and coming full circle as a graduate assistant on the Rutgers staff.

Noonan will be on the field Saturday and is ecstatic about the chance to honor his teammate.

"Seeing him as coach now is crazy, but he taught me a whole lot about the game and he's going to be great," LeGrand said. "Me, him and [former New England Patriot] Scott Vallone were the three guys battling all year and it's great to see him out there."

For younger players in the program, LeGrand is as much a symbol as he is a former member of the program. LeGrand is a national face in Subway commercials, award shows and as an aspiring sports broadcaster. Flood likes to say many of his players only know him as the celebrity he became.

Redshirt freshman receiver Carlton Agudosi wore a LeGrand patch on his Franklin High School uniform as a junior and still remembers the injury as an aspiring college football player at the time.

"First off it's very special [to me] because he's done a lot for this program," Agudosi said. "He took a negative and turned it into a positive. When I walked into the locker room and realized I hurt my hamstring, I looked at Eric. He can never play again. I can't complain. He's a motivator. Every time I see him on TV, I'm proud to be a Rutgers student."

LeGrand will address the Rutgers locker room Thursday afternoon, where he has a clear message.

"Appreciate what you have and how blessed they are to have this opportunity," LeGrand said. "Don't take it for granted. I am a prime example. Play every play like it's your last because you never know when it is. I'm the living example of that."

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