Rutgers honors Eric LeGrand

Updated: November 13, 2010, 10:08 PM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

Eric LeGrandAP Photo/Mel EvansThe Rutgers community honored paralyzed DT Eric LeGrand on Saturday at a home game vs. Syracuse.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Eric LeGrand was about 30 miles away from Rutgers Stadium on Saturday afternoon, but his presence was felt all over the Scarlet Knights' home field as they played their first home game since LeGrand suffered a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the neck down.

Rutgers fans sitting in the students section formed LeGrand's jersey number -- 52 -- with white T-shirts.

Scarlet Knights players wore a white decal with "BELIEVE" written in red on the front of their helmet, and there was a white sign with "BELIEVE 52" on a wall behind the south end zone.

During its halftime performance, the Rutgers marching band lined up to form a 52 across the field.

LeGrand suffered a spinal cord injury while making a tackle during a kickoff against Army on Oct. 16 and was paralyzed from the neck down.

According to a school official, LeGrand watched Saturday's 13-10 loss against Syracuse from the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, where he's been undergoing treatment since Wednesday.

LeGrand left the rehabilitation facility on Nov. 3 due to a high fever, but was transferred back the next day.

Prior to his transfer to Kessler, LeGrand, a junior defensive tackle, had been at Hackensack University Medical Center.

Rutgers has said that all updates on LeGrand's condition will be provided by the family and issued through the school.

"Eric is in good spirits and is anxious to take the next step in his rehabilitation process," said LeGrand's mother, Karen, in a statement released by the school Wednesday, the day he entered the Kessler Institute. "Thank you to everyone for the tremendous outpouring of love, support and prayers for Eric."

The New Jersey Nets and New York Jets have donated money to LeGrand's fund. Giants coach Tom Coughlin visited LeGrand when he was being treated at the Hackensack University Medical Center.

Rutgers has lost three straight since LeGrand's injury.

Coach Greg Schiano said after the game that it was hard not to think that the emotions of the last month had taken a toll on his team.

"I'd be naive to think that it doesn't have some factor," the coach said. "But, as I've said to the players, life is messy and you don't have a choice. ... You can either keep living or you can feel sorry for yourself. We got to keep living, getting better."

Rutgers needs to win two of its last three games to gain eligibility to a bowl for the sixth straight season.

But a bowl bid didn't seem to be the top priority to many on hand Saturday. It felt as if their thoughts were first and foremost with LeGrand, a 20-year-old Avenel, N.J., resident.

The spirit and scope of the Rugters community's response to LeGrand's tragic injury was perhaps best epitomized by Erica Bowden, a junior from South Plainfield and friend of LeGrand's.

Bowden started selling red bracelets with "Eric LeGrand [No.] 52 BELIEVE" written in black days after he suffered the injury. She originally ordered 200 to sell at the Rutgers student center and posted a message on Facebook to alert her friends.

A few hours after posting the message, Bowden had 5,000 hits on her Facebook page.

"We quickly realized we were going to need more than 200 bracelets," said Bill Bowden, Erica's father, who was selling bracelets outside of West Gate D prior to Saturday's game.

To date, Bowden has sold 17,000 bracelets, raising more than $80,000 for the "Eric LeGrand Believe Fund," established by Rutgers to support LeGrand and his family.

"Eric's a great kid and we want to do what we can to help," Bill Bowden said. "We're hoping for the best."

Ian Begley is a regular conributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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