By Marta Lawrence
Eric LeGrand’s life changed last October when the Rutgers defensive tackle collided with an Army player on a fourth-quarter kick return. LeGrand fractured his third and fourth cervical vertebrae, paralyzing him from the neck down.
When Southern Methodist University head football coach June Jones heard LeGrand’s story, he was inspired to help. Jones had been working for years with the Gridiron Heroes Spinal Cord Injury Foundation, a group created to assist injured high school football players, so creating a fund for college students was a natural extension.
The College Football Assistance Fund launched Jan. 10 with support from an advisory committee that includes the head coaches at Rice, Air Force, Southern Mississippi, Texas State, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Navy and Mississippi. TCU Athletics Director Chris Del Conte, Miami (Florida) Athletics Director Kirby Hocutt and SMU Athletics Director Steve Orsini also serve as advisors, as do several former NFL players and Oklahoma State booster T. Boone Pickens.
“When I called other coaches, other people, the response was what we wanted,” Jones said.
Two weeks later, support is streaming in. Jones said the group recently got a call “out of the blue” from Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, pledging $25,000.
“I am proud to support the College Football Assistance Fund and hopeful it will inspire others to give as well,” Cuban said in a statement.
Jones said another donor contributed $10,000. Other gifts have been made through the website.
The NCAA’s catastrophic-injury insurance program provides up to $20 million in lifetime benefits to student-athletes who are injured during athletics activities. The insurance also provides special benefits, such as an educational stipend to allow the student to continue his or her studies and a provision that allows purchase of equipment and home modifications to support the athlete’s recovery. There are caps to these benefits, however. The College Football Assistance Fund is designed to provide assistance beyond those caps.
Jones said the College Football Assistance Fund will help with expenses associated with a life-altering injury. “We think this is something all coaches can put together, and they can target in all cities at all universities,” he said.
Three days before the fund was announced, ESPN aired an update on LeGrand’s condition. After months of grueling rehab, the determined young man who held to his mantra “believe” has sensation throughout his body and movement in his shoulders.
“I believe that I will walk one day,” LeGrand said in the interview. “I believe it. God has a plan for me and I know it’s not to be sitting here all the time. I know he has something planned better for me.”