RALPH D. RUSSO,AP College Football Writer
NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Rutgers has not handed out No. 52 since Eric LeGrand last wore it — the day he was injured during a game and left paralyzed.
Now, until LeGrand walks again, no one will wear that number for the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers announced Tuesday that LeGrand’s jersey will be the first retired by the program that played college football’s first game in 1869.
“This is a dream come true,” LeGrand said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “To be the first one to have his number retired is unreal.”
LeGrand and his No. 52 will be honored in a ceremony Sept. 14 when Rutgers plays at home against Eastern Michigan.
“We’re excited to be able to do that for him and his family,” Scarlet Knight coach Kyle Flood said at American Athletic Conference media day. “It will be a great day, not just for Rutgers football, but for the LeGrand family and everybody that’s associated with us.”
LeGrand broke two vertebrae in October 2010 while making a tackle on a kickoff return against Army. He was left paralyzed from the shoulders down and has had to use a wheelchair since leaving the hospital, but has made enough progress in his rehabilitation to stand upright with the help of a metal frame. The 22-year-old said he now has gotten his left wrist to twitch and the strength in his back has returned to the point where he can more easily sit up by himself.
“This is a testament to what he went through and how he is changing lives of others,” linebacker Kevin Snyder said. “He has handled the situation better than anyone could expect and is continuing to fight the good fight. Eric still continues to believe and this is a great honor for him.”
LeGrand is going into his third season as an analyst for Rutgers radio broadcasts.
Flood said that when LeGrand walks again, the number will be unretired.
“I told him I know you’re going to do that,” Flood said. “And then that number will become a significant number in our program again to be worn only on special occasions and by certain people. There’s no doubt in my mind that that day will come.”
That plan sounded good to LeGrand.
LeGrand said: “I hope whoever wears it will wear it with dignity and pride.”
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