Khaseem Greene stood in the hospital room of paralyzed Rutgers teammate Eric LeGrand over the weekend and didn’t do much talking.
It was hard for the safety to see his roommate laying in a bed at the Hackensack University Medical Center unable to move from the neck down after being injured making a tackle in a game against Army on Saturday.
For Greene and several of his teammates, it was better just to let the junior defensive tackle rest.
”I just told him I loved him and stay strong,” Greene said Monday as Rutgers’ players talked for the first time about the horrific injury. ”He’s a strong kid, a fighter, and we believe in him. That’s pretty much the main thing.”
There has not been much medical news about LeGrand since the university announced Sunday that the Avenel resident who grew up 15 minutes from Rutgers Stadium suffered a spinal cord injury.
Coach Greg Schiano said Monday that he will refrain from giving daily medical updates but will provide information when appropriate. He would not directly comment when asked if LeGrand has experienced any feelings in his extremities or moved any toes or finger since the injury.
”Here’s the situation: This is going to be a long, long hard road back and there’s going to be speculation and a lot of friends and people who care,” Schiano said during his weekly conference call with the Big East Conference.
”I think it’s important that we stay away from those kinds of things,” Schiano said. ”I think there’s so much out there and a lot of it is misguided. Right now, when it’s appropriate, we will make an announcement if there’s any kind of change in his condition. But it’s not going to be a day-to-day thing.”
LeGrand was hurt late in the fourth quarter while making a tackle on Malcolm Brown on the kickoff return after Rutgers tied the score at 17. He lay on the turf for at least five minutes while medical and emergency personnel treated him and players on both teams watched.
Schiano and some teammates visited him after the game. Several also went on Sunday. Greene went to the hospital with defensive lineman Scott Vallone, offensive lineman Devon Watkis and linebacker Marvin Booker.
”Of course, you don’t want to see your brother like that,” Greene said. ”But at the same time I think I needed that. The couple of guys that went up there, we needed that.”
Remarkably, most of the players were stoic talking about LeGrand, which in many ways mirrored their coach.
Schiano had tears in his eyes discussing the injury after Rutgers’ dramatic 23-20 overtime win on Saturday. He has been more even keel the past two days.
”There’s not much to it,” Vallone said when asked about LeGrand. ”He’s battling right now. He’s got the best doctors and he’s battling right now and they’re going to help him through this.”
Senior defensive tackle Charlie Noonan said LeGrand would want his teammates not to worry about him and focus on this weekend’s game at Pittsburgh.
”We do it the way Eric would’ve wanted us to do it,” Noonan said. ”Eric loved football so much and he’d want us to focus on Pitt and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Still, it was hard for the players not to think fondly of LeGrand, one of the team’s nice guys.
”Eric has a presence to him,” Noonan said. ”His smile, as soon as he walks into a room, he can light a room up. He’s just a hard worker. He’s just – I don’t have any sisters – but he’s just the kind of kid you’d want your sister to date. He’s just a really good guy.”
Schiano has tried to be optimistic.
”My belief has not changed and will not change and neither will our program’s,” Schiano said. ”Eric, he will recover.”
While doctors and surgeons have not discussed LeGrand’s injury, football players paralyzed from the neck down have walked again.
Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett was paralyzed from the neck down, making a tackle in the season opener in 2007. He ducked his head tackling Denver’s Domenik Hixon and doctors feared he’d never walk again. Everett showed signs of movement days later and began walking by November.
Rutgers linebacker Antonio Lowery on Monday recalled seeing LeGrand motionless after the tackle: ”When I first saw it happen I was like, ‘Please let it be a concussion.’ We just prayed and hoped for the best.”
Safety and tri-captain Joe Lefeged said the team is doing its best to stick together. However, he admits it will be hard getting ready this week. One motivation, of course, will be playing for LeGrand.
”Anytime we’re feeling tired, anytime we’re playing hurt or we don’t want to wake up for practice, we need to keep Eric in our hearts,” Lefeged said. ”We’re playing for Eric.”