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WOODBRIDGE, NJ—Ever since a tragic accident on the football field left Eric LeGrand paralyzed, the former Rutgers player has become an inspiration to people all over the world with his positive attitude and vibrant spirit. Now he’s hoping to energize people in a new way – with a caffeine jolt.
LeGrand recently celebrated the launch of the online store for the LeGrand Coffee House, and plans to open brick and mortar location in a building currently under construction at 10 Green Street in Woodbridge, his hometown.
LeGrand, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, said one of the goals of the café is to be as inclusive as possible, as the coffee bar area will be accessible so a person in a wheelchair could serve as a barista. He said he hopes his café will bring people together.
“I want it to just feel open to bring the community together. All types of different people, walks of life, all different shapes and sizes. I want to make sure that my coffee shop is based off of that, no discrimination in any way,” said LeGrand.
The new space will be on the ground-floor of Prism Capital Partner’s new development just a block away from the Woodbridge train station. In addition to the retail space, the project includes 232 apartments.
“I’ve always been a big café fan,” LeGrand said. “When the opportunity presented itself in my hometown, I said, ‘You know what, I’ve got to create my own café.’”
Ironically, LeGrand didn’t have his first cup of coffee until last summer, when he began to start indulging after seeing friends post pictures of their fancy coffee drinks in a group chat. He quickly became hooked after he was connected with an independent roaster who provided LeGrand with different coffee varieties.
His website offers coffee from three distinct locations: Costa Rica, Guatemala and Sumatra, with a 12-ounce bag selling for $15. The site also sells decaled mugs imprinted with a unique LeGrand Coffee House logo.
LeGrand says each of the coffee varieties has its own unique flavor. He explained that the Costa Rican variety is for the average coffee drinker, as it has a fruity taste and is not too high in caffeine. The Guatemalan beans offer a chocolate-grapefruit aftertaste, while the Sumatran brew has an earthy tone, with a hint of cherry.
LeGrand has appeared on various national media platforms to promote his new business, including the popular Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio and via skype on ABC’s Live with Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest.
LeGrand was a standout football player at Colonia High School in Woodbridge, before starring on the defensive line and special teams for Rutgers.
In 2010, he suffered a severe spinal injury during a game against Army when he collided at full speed with an opposing player, fracturing his C3 and C4 vertebrae, causing him to be paralyzed from the neck down.
He underwent nine hours of emergency surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center to stabilize his spine.
At the time, doctors gave him a zero to five percent chance of regaining neurological function. After two weeks, he was transferred to the Kessler Institute for rehabilitation, one of the nation’s leaders in spinal cord rehabilitation.
He also was a participant of the Reeve Foundation’s NeuroRecovery Network (NRN), during which time he took part in a rigorous rehabilitation regime, including locomotor training, to re-teach his body how to walk and improve his quality of life.
In January 2011, Rutgers announced that LeGrand had regained movement in his shoulders and sensation throughout his body.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LeGrand continues his rehabilitation from home, relying on his mother and his nurse to assist him in his recovery.
He showed how far he has come since his accident during his recent TV appearance with Ripa and Seacrest, as he was able to shake his shoulders and torso around (to the delight of the crowd). LeGrand says he continues to make progress “slowly but surely.”
He credits his Christian faith with helping him to remain positive and upbeat no matter the circumstances he faces.
“I have a special relationship with God,” LeGrand said. “The past 10 years has just been nothing but blessings and opportunities that have come my way.
“ I know it’s because of my faith in him, my prayer to him, reaching out and talking to him, throughout the entire day, I just know without him I would be nothing.”
“I’ve always had faith in God, but after my injury it definitely got stronger,” he added.
In addition to his new coffee business, LeGrand is busy with several other projects, including his “Team LeGrand” foundation and his own Shop52 clothing line, as well as a series of YouTube vlogs which can be found on his website.
He also plans to continue as a sports analyst for the Rutgers football radio network, where he announces games with Chris Carlin and Ray Lucas.
LeGrand, who played for coach Greg Schiano from 2008-2010, said he is happy to see his old coach back at the helm for the Scarlet Knights, after returning to Rutgers in December 2019.
“Coach Schiano is the guy to get the [football] program back to where it needs to be,” LeGrand said. “Those kids deserve his leadership and what he brings to the table.”
Schiano and LeGrand have always had a special relationship, as the Scarlet Knights coach would often sleep at the hospital during the early days of LeGrand’s recovery.
“Eric’s such a special person to me, my family and to all of us,” Schiano said in Rutgers Today article in 2016. “If we all could have such a positive outlook on life and bring that attitude every day, the world would be a better place. I look to him for inspiration, just like so many other people do.”
LeGrand has achieved many milestones in the years since his accident.
On October 29, 2011, at age 21, LeGrand, in his motorized wheelchair, led the Scarlet Knights onto the field at Rutgers’s stadium for their game against West Virginia, which was later chosen by readers of Sports Illustrated as ‘The Best Moment of 2011.’
In 2012 LeGrand was awarded a professional football contract by Schiano, who was then the head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
LeGrand launched his own charity as “Team LeGrand” of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation in 2013, the proceeds of which go toward research to find a cure for paralysis and improving quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.
That same year, LeGrand’s number 52 jersey was retired in a ceremony at Rutgers Stadium, as he became the first Scarlet Knight to receive this honor.
After working toward his degree by finishing his courses online, LeGrand graduated from Rutgers in 2014, where he was an honored speaker at the commencement ceremony.
He has become a sought-after motivational speaker and authored an autobiographical book called “BELIEVE: My Faith and the Tackle That Changed My Life,” which was published by HarperCollins.
What is his message to the audience when he speaks to a crowd?
“I tell them that they have to look at life with a new kind of appreciation,” LeGrand said during his Janury 27 appearance on Live. “Realize all the things that you can do in your life and don’t focus on the things you can’t do.”