Paralyzed Rutgers player aware of hard road ahead

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From: NBC New York

Paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand is responsive and aware of the difficult road ahead, says coach Greg Schiano, who described the junior defensive tackle as being in “good spirits.”

Schiano did not update LeGrand’s medical condition in a news conference Tuesday but said he’s seen him every day since LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down after making a special teams tackle against Army on Saturday.

“He goes through different periods,” Schiano said. “There are medications that have to be administered. He has been very responsive at times, and very aware. He knows. I have tried to keep him informed. It’s only been, even though it feels like a number of days, it’s only been a few days.

“I have tried to keep him informed what is going on here,” he said. “I see him each day and let him know what is happening with the guys. He understands.”

The Scarlet Knights practiced on Tuesday, their first full-contact workout since the Army game. Afterward, Schiano said the team was focused for Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh, which is what LeGrand would want them to do.

Over the weekend, Schiano reached out to Penn State coach Joe Paterno for advice on how to handle the situation.

Paterno, who had Schiano on his staff in the early 1990s, went through a similar injury in 2000 when Adam Taliaferro was injured. He walked eight months later. The 83-year-old coach and mentor advised Schiano to be available for LeGrand and his family.

Schiano has followed the message. He has been at the Hackensack University Medical Center every day, providing support for his player and family, while talking to the players’ friends. There were 50 visitors for LeGrand at the hospital on Monday, and most didn’t get into the intensive care unit where LeGrand is being treated following surgery to stabilize his spine.

“I think everyone has joined together to do the best we can in a bad situation,” said Schiano, who has had his players and staff write notes and send DVDs to LeGrand to read or watch when he feels up to it.

Schiano refused to say much about the 72-hour window for players who have been paralyzed. Some doctors believe if an injured person does not get some feeling or movement in that period, there is little chance of recovery.

“In the end, it really boils down to nobody really knows,” Schiano said, adding his belief is that LeGrand will recover.

“We know it’s going to be a long road,” Schiano said. “It’s going to be one step at a time and we’re going to do this as a family, the LeGrand family, the Rutgers football family. That’s the way we are going to approach it.”

Rutgers spokesman Jason Baum said 18,000 e-mails had been to LeGrand through the website.

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart took time out to talk about LeGrand on Tuesday.

“It’s a sad occasion when we see injuries and we’re hoping and praying,” he said. “I received a call Saturday night and my heart’s been thinking about him ever since. We’re thinking about him and we sure wish Eric and his family the best.”

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has reached out to Schiano, and Panther players and staff will display a large banner supporting the defensive lineman during Saturday’s game. Schiano knows Rutgers (4-2, 1-0 Big East) will have a hard task getting focused and ready to play Pitt (3-3, 1-0).

Paterno said it’s going to take a lot of leadership to do that among the Scarlet Knights because “you’re not dealing with inanimate objects.”

“They’ve got to face the problem and a couple people have to come to the front and convince people we’ve got to put it behind us, we’re going to be there to support our teammate,” Paterno said. “We would expect him to want us to go out there and play hard, play well, do the best we can, and go from there. But again, each team is different. You’re dealing with 19- and 20-year-old kids, and all of a sudden, they’re not indestructible.”

Schiano has stressed accountability to his players and he said this is another time when they have to be accountable.

“Eric LeGrand is a guy that comes to this facility and is locked in,” Schiano said. “He loves everything about it. We talked a lot about it as a team. He can’t (play) now, but you can and that is what he wants.”

The players understood.

Defensive end Jonathan Freeny tapped a so-called problem box as he walked on the field. It’s always been there and players touch it to remind themselves to leave their off-the-field concerns away from football.

“Outside of football all of us are thinking about Eric,” Freeny said. “But once we step on the field, get to the top of the stairs and put our thoughts in that box, it’s all about football. Once we get back off the field Eric in back in our thoughts.”

LeGrand’s fellow defenders are doing their best to stay off the team’s ‘LOS’ list — lack of swarm list.

“Eric was never on it,” defensive captain Joe Lefeged said. “We’re trying our best to stay in our normal rhythm.”

Schiano smiled when told about the players’ feelings.

“It’s true, you didn’t find 52 on the list,” Schiano said, using LeGrand’s number. “I think it’s something, another way they can honor him and try to help their defense.”

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