Eric LeGrand says he will be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer forever, but his time on the team's active roster has come to an end.
LeGrand, the paralyzed former Rutgers defensive tackle who was signed as a free agent in May, announced his retirement from the Bucs on Thursday morning.
"Making it to the NFL was my dream,'' LeGrand said in a statement released by the Bucs. "But now I want to see my team as strong as possible at the start of training camp. I'm a Buc for life."
LeGrand officially was placed on the Bucs' reserve/retired list on Thursday.
LeGrand was signed as a symbolic gesture by Tampa Bay at the urging of head coach Greg Schiano, who was his college coach at Rutgers. A limited edition Bucs jersey with LeGrand's name and his college uniform number, 52, is being sold by the team's pro shop, with the proceeds going to LeGrand's foundation to benefit spinal cord injury patients and research.
On Twitter, LeGrand wrote: "I knew I wouldn't keep the roster spot forever and my team enters camp today. (This allows them to) Go in with a full squad of 90 people so I am not in the way of them reaching a championship. Every man counts.''
The Bucs signed LeGrand to a free agent contract on May 2, the calendar date (5/2) that matched his uniform number.
"Leading up to the draft, I couldn't help but think that this should've been Eric's draft class," Schiano said in a Bucs release following the signing. "This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men."
The signing came as a surprise to LeGrand, who has regained limited movement in his arms and limited sensation in his body since he was injured during a game against Army on Oct. 16, 2010.
"It came out of nowhere,'' LeGrand said the day of the signing. "Coach Schiano called my mom on Monday night, but he didn't tell me until Tuesday around 1 o'clock, and I was like 'Are you serious?'
"He said 'It's the least we could do,' and I was like, 'I don't even know what to say right now.' It was always my dream to go to the NFL, retire and become a sportscaster, so dreams really do come true.
"It just goes to show that if you really believe and if you do the right things in life, good things are going to happen to you. He just did this out of the kindness of his heart. It's just amazing.''
LeGrand fractured two vertebrae and suffered a serious spinal cord injury on the play that left him paralyzed. He was initially told he would be a quadriplegic for life and would have to breathe through a ventilator, but five weeks after sustaining the injury he was breathing on his own again.
Since then LeGrand has improved to the point where he can now stand up with the help of a metal frame, sit up without assistance for up to 15 minutes and make walking and pedaling movements with mechanical or human aid.
"I wasn't supposed to be doing any of this kind of stuff,'' LeGrand said. "But I just keep going every single day and keep believing, and I stay on my daily grind just like I'm preparing for a football game.
"I don't know when that football game is going to be, but every single day I think of that as I go through my rehab. My goal is to walk again, and I know it's going to happen. That's why I'm going to keep on fighting.''