Some fervent fans are willing to make the claim that they live and die by their respective football team. For others though, this hyperbole can take on a much more literal meaning, and that is the case with Eric LeGrand. Eric was a three-star recruit from New Jersey playing as a defensive tackle for Colonia High School before being scouted by and receiving an offer to play football at Rutgers University. It was there in October 2010 during his junior year that his football career came to an abrupt end when he suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. This certainly hasn’t stopped him from living his life to the fullest though, with Eric’s newfound platform allowing him to pursue other dreams while being a voice for others who find themselves in a similar position as himself. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the esteemed Eric LeGrand and discuss what football means to him, his experience as a D1 recruit and athlete, along with charitable causes he supports and so much more he's passionate about; but let’s start at the beginning.
LeGrand was born in Avenel, NJ in 1990, where he first discovered his passion for football. He credits the beloved children’s game best known as “kill the man with the ball” which played an integral in helping him find his fuel, adding that “the adrenaline rush at four or five years old made me want to say you know what? I want to play this game of football.” Reminiscing on his younger years, Eric remembers being bigger, stronger, and faster than most of the children in his neighborhood and credits those attributes for facilitating his career even at its earliest points. These qualities would continue to translate to success as he climbed the metaphorical ladder that every prospect hoping to pursue a career in pro-ball is forced to climb, and would see Eric rated as a three-star recruit coming out of high school. He utilized his skillset on the field to garner interest from a variety of D1 colleges and universities as he prepared for the next stop along his journey, ultimately deciding to attend Rutgers University after receiving an offer from them in his junior year.
While D1 athletes are primarily recruited based upon the level of talent they possess, the politics surrounding collegiate football are impossible to ignore. When Eric was asked if he felt his three-star rating was fair, he responded with a firm “no” and went on to elaborate upon these aforementioned politics. “At that time, if you committed to Rutgers a lot of people didn’t show you love. If you went to the Notre Dames of the world, the USCs, they were all over you.” He didn’t care though and even added that, in hindsight, Rutgers was the “perfect spot” for him, allowing him to stay close to home while also crediting coach Greg Schiano as one of the most important mentors in his life to this very day. “Coach Schiano, when he recruited us, he takes seventeen, eighteen-year-old boys and turns them into twenty-one, twenty-two-year-old men,” he said, going on to cite the myriad of differences between high school and college football and the importance of bringing your best every single day if you want to achieve your goals. It is for that reason exactly that Eric was able to make it on the field as soon as his freshman year hit and made an impact at Rutgers almost immediately.
Though he hasn’t seen the field in over a decade, the lessons Eric has learned are something he still carries with him to this day. “There's too many to count,” he said “Leadership, being a mentor, making tough decisions, building a team… so many values… every day our best was demanded out of us, and it wasn’t easy.” Life after his injury wasn’t easy either, but these qualities gave Eric a profound advantage in adjusting to the seismic changes he has experienced in his life since then. He cites his attitude as an integral part of his rehabilitation as well and it's easy to understand why; Eric hasn’t allowed anything in his life to slow him down and he remains steadfast in pursuit of his goals, deriving a plethora of opportunities out of less-than-ideal circumstances. “Honestly it's being able to meet all different people from all different walks of life by being able to share my story,” he said when asked what has been important to his recovery process “business meetings, sales meetings, all the way down to the schools with the little kids… it's been incredible to see how you can touch (no matter who it is) so many people with your story.”
Arguably the greatest opportunity for him to do just that came in 2012 when he received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance honoring his ability to overcome the obstacles he has experienced and the active role he has taken in advocating for causes he holds close to his heart.
One of the highlights of our conversation was when Eric began to discuss the annual “Walk to Believe” he hosts and you could just hear the excitement in his voice. He thanks Arlene Gonzalez who, per Eric, “didn’t know a thing about football” but was so moved by Eric’s injury that she felt the need to “do something.” And that, she did and from there, they would go on to host the first annual 5K “Walk to Believe,” with the twelfth scheduled to take place this year. The Walk raised close to $1 million which was donated to causes that would help the millions of paralyzed individuals in America.
LeGrand has a new business venture that he also sees as the perfect opportunity to bring people together: coffee. Citing everything going on in the United States at the moment, Eric asked himself how he could create some unity during such a disjointed time and decided that high-quality coffee was the best way to do that.
“It was an idea I came up with during the pandemic of ‘how do I bring people together?’ with all the hatred and negative things that were going on in this world…” Eric said, “How can I do something to bring people together? Well, what do people want and what do people need? Coffee. … I want to bring unity to the community with a daily cup of believe.”
He launched LeGrand Coffee House at the end of 2020 and began selling and shipping a variety of types of coffee worldwide at LeGrandCoffeeHouse.com, and Eric was adamant that these aren’t “some cheap coffees.” The proof is in the pudding with LeGrand Coffee House’s first brick and mortar location set to open in Woodbridge, New Jersey this May and Eric remaining as eager as ever to push his message as far as he can. You can follow Eric on this journey by following his Instagram account @ericlegrand52 and LeGrand Coffee House's account @legrandcoffeehouse.