NEW YORK -- Eric LeGrand, the Rutgers defensive tackle who was paralyzed from the neck down in a game against Army on Oct. 16, says he has regained some sensation in his entire body and movement in his shoulders.
LeGrand, 20, revealed the news in an exclusive first interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi, which will debut during the 9 a.m. ET edition of "SportsCenter" on Friday.
The 6-foot-2, 275-pound junior fractured his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae while making a tackle on a kickoff return and admitted in the interview that he feared for his life immediately after suffering the injury.
"Fear of death, that's the biggest fear that I got because I couldn't breathe the way I was breathing and I couldn't move," LeGrand said. "Laying out on the ground, motionless, not being able to breathe was the hardest part in thinking, can I die here?"
After nine hours of emergency surgery to stabilize LeGrand's spine, doctors initially gave him a 0-5 percent chance of regaining neurologic function. LeGrand's mother, Karen, said that she never gave him that information.
"I didn't want to hear that two percent of the people with this injury can walk, or five percent regain this, or -- I didn't want to hear about percentages because my son, in all honesty, is not a percentage," Karen said. "My son is my son. ... And nobody knows him, nobody knows the will that he has, nobody knows the faith that we have."
Six days after surgery, LeGrand first moved his shoulders. In early November, he was taken off a ventilator and was breathing on his own. He was transferred to the Kessler Institute in West Orange, N.J., to continue his rehabilitation.
In mid-December, LeGrand had another breakthrough. For the first time since the injury, he had sensation in his hands.
"I always rub his hands as he's laying there," Karen said, "and I think he said, 'I feel that. I think I feel that.' I'm like, what are you talking about? He's like, 'I think I feel something -- you rubbing my hands. I can feel my hands.'"
"As my mom, she placed her hand on me, I was like, 'Wow! I felt that.' And that was just a big shock and it was just like, 'Wow! It's coming back. It's coming back.'"
LeGrand remains at the Kessler Institute, and still faces a long and difficult road ahead, in terms of his rehabilitation. But he is brimming with optimism.
"I believe that I will walk one day," LeGrand said. "I believe it. God has a plan for me and I know it's not to be sitting here all the time. I know he has something planned better for me."
Kieran Darcy covers college sports for ESPNNewYork.com.