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Paralyzed football player signed to Bucs hopes to change the world

By the CNN Wire Staff
May 7, 2012 -- Updated 0603 GMT (1403 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eric LeGrand injured his spinal cord while making a tackle in 2010
  • The injury left him partially paralyzed
  • Tampa Bay signed him to the team's offseason roster
  • LeGrand says his goal is to walk again

(CNN) -- Even though it's symbolic and "there's no money involved," Eric LeGrand told CNN over the weekend that he's thrilled to be on the roster of an NFL team.

The former Rutgers defensive tackle, who was partially paralyzed in 2010 when he injured his spinal cord during a game, was signed to the 90-man offseason roster of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.

"This was a dream come true for me. I always wanted to go to the NFL -- that was my career goal in life," LeGrand told CNN's Don Lemon on Sunday. "Circumstances dictated it differently, but I can at least say I'm there now. I'm on a team. I'm on a roster."

The Bucs are coached by ex-Rutgers coach Greg Schian, who helped shepherd LeGrand through the dark days following his injury.

"He's been there since day one making sure I had the best doctors, best surgeon, best hospital, best everything," LeGrand said. "Everything around me was just so positive and there was no negativity around me. That's what kept me going in the beginning -- that first month -- when I really didn't know what was going on, what was happening in my life."

LeGrand, who collided with an Army kick returner while making a tackle on October 16, 2010, was initially paralyzed from the neck down. At the hospital, medical personnel told him he'd be a quadriplegic and would need a respirator for the rest of his life.

But LeGrand progressed, breathing on his own after five weeks. He operates a wheelchair, and he's been able to stand upright with the help of a metal frame.

With medical bills covered in part by donations to two foundations, including Rutgers' Eric LeGrand Believe Fund, LeGrand says his ultimate goal is to walk again.

"Absolutely. No doubt," he said confidently when asked if he'll reach that goal.

"I believe in myself and I believe in the man above," he said. "I know everything in this world happens for a reason."

He told Sports Illustrated in November that he wanted to return to the spot on the field where he was injured, lie down, get up and walk away.

He's already returned to the Rutgers field in his wheelchair twice: on October 29, leading his team onto the gridiron, and on November 19 for Senior Day festivities before the Scarlet Knights' win against Cincinnati.

When Tampa signed LeGrand, they presented him with a helmet and personalized Bucs jersey, adding some substance to his dream.

"It is pretty cool ... something you always dream about doing and I finally made it," he gushed.

There are plans for him to visit the team during offseason training and also attend a few games in the fall.

But there's still the nagging question of what might have been. It's one he doesn't focus on.

"I wouldn't have been able to touch this many people if I was playing football," a bouyant LeGrand said. "That's why I know that there was something there for me to do in my life that can hopefully change the world."

CNN's Jason Hanna contributed to this report

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