Former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed while making a tackle in 2010 in a game against Army and has gone on to become renowned motivational speaker, has been named the recipient of the third annual Warrior Award by the WWE, ESPN.com has learned.
The award, which is named after WWE Hall of Famer The Ultimate Warrior, will be presented to LeGrand by Dana Warrior, widow of the The Ultimate Warrior, at the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony on March 31 at the Amway Center in Orlando. LeGrand will also be recognized on April 2 at WrestleMania at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
"I was in complete shock when I found out," LeGrand told ESPN.com. "What an honor."
WWE executive vice president Paul Levesque, who is better known to wrestling fans as Triple H, reached out to LeGrand last week, but left the longtime wrestling fan wondering for a couple of days what the 14-time world champion wanted to talk to him about.
"Paul's assistant sent me an email on Tuesday saying Paul wanted to talk and wanted to schedule a call for Thursday," LeGrand said. "So I'm sitting here for two days wondering what Triple H wants to say to me. My heart was racing for two days wondering what this was all about. When he called me, he explained the award to me and what they do at WrestleMania, and then he told me at the end that they want to present the award to me, and I honestly didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to react. This was incredible as someone who grew up as a fan since I was a little kid."
The Warrior Award, according to the WWE, is "presented to an individual who has exhibited unwavering strength and perseverance and who lives life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of The Ultimate Warrior." Last year, the Warrior Award was presented to award-winning journalist and breast cancer survivor Joan Lunden. The inaugural award was presented in 2015 to Connor Michalek, an 8-year-old Pittsburgh native and WWE fan who died of cancer in 2014.
Levesque, who first met LeGrand a couple of years ago through his trainer, Joe DeFranco, said LeGrand is the perfect embodiment of what the award stands for.
"When you talk to Eric and when you're around him, it's really hard not to be blown away by his positivity and his demeanor as a human being; it's just inspiring," Levesque told ESPN.com. "Here's a guy who has every reason in the world to be bitter and angry and yet he's the most positive dude you've ever met. You can't help walking away from him and just being inspired."
LeGrand was a key player for Rutgers on defense and special teams during his junior season with the Scarlet Knights before he suffered a severe spinal cord injury while making a tackle on a kickoff on Oct. 16, 2010, at MetLife Stadium. The injury left him paralyzed from the neck down. He would go on to resume his college classes via Skype, begin a career in broadcasting and founded the charity Team LeGrand of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation in 2013. In addition to honoring him with the Warrior Award later this month, the WWE will be making a $25,000 donation to Team LeGrand.
"The Warrior Award is reserved for someone who lives life with courage and compassion, and Eric is more than deserving. He is a great example for us all," Levesque said.
When LeGrand was younger he would mimic different wrestling finishing moves and watch the likes of The Rock, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Kane during the WWE's "Attitude" era. Being on stage and honored in front of the wrestlers he used to watch every Monday night growing up still doesn't seem real when he thinks about it.
"It's going to be incredible," LeGrand said. "I honestly can't put it into words yet. It has not sunk in that I'm going to be a part of the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony with all these great superstars. It's going to be truly amazing. WrestleMania is one of the biggest events in the world and to have my name attached to it and be a part of it as a small kid from Avenel, New Jersey, is a true blessing and a true honor. It just shows you if you do right in the world, good things do happen to you."