- Associated Press - Thursday, October 13, 2011

WOODBRIDGE, N.J. (AP) - Eric LeGrand makes this face sometimes. He scrunches up his nose and mouth, wiggles them a bit, stretches them from side to side.

He’s got an itch. He can’t scratch it because he is paralyzed below the shoulders.

If his mom was close by, he’d rub his face against her chest, shoulder or arm. He does that with his girlfriend, too. He’ll even do it to one his physical therapists now and again.

But when no one is close enough, he just makes that face.

“I miss the most being able to take care of myself,” he says.

On Sunday, Oct. 16, it will be one year since the 21-year-old LeGrand played his last football game, made his last tackle. Rutgers had just scored, and kicked off to Army late in a game at the new Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. LeGrand, then a 270-pound defensive lineman for the Scarlet Knights, made a hit on Army kick returner Malcolm Brown and fractured his C3 and C4 vertebrae. LeGrand remembers going down and being dazed, but didn’t understand at the time how severely he was hurt.

The amazing thing now is, for a guy who still can’t scratch his nose, LeGrand will tell you with a smile _ always with a smile _ why he has so many reasons to be grateful.

He survived an injury that not everyone survives.

He’s breathing without a ventilator, something doctors had told his mother would be unlikely.

He spent five months as a patient at Kessler Institute in West Orange, N.J., where he saw people with spinal cord injuries who could not even eat. Now he’s an outpatient there, rehabbing three days a week.

After missing most of his junior year, he’s back to working on his degree at Rutgers. He takes classes three nights a week, using an online video conference to watch the lectures from home.

He greets his former teammates in the locker room before each Rutgers home game, then he goes to his new job.

Like most athletes do when they are done playing, LeGrand is now a sportscaster. He does analysis during pregame, postgame and halftime of Rutgers radio broadcasts. He’s already done his first TV spot, too.

He hangs out with his friends and his girlfriend. He tweets _ (at)BigE52_RU has more than 21,000 followers _ and posts on his Facebook page thanks to a voice activated laptop.

He’s often asked to speak at schools and churches, to talk about overcoming adversity by staying positive, never giving up hope, believing in God and yourself.

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