"He's a fighter," says Rutgers coach Greg Schiano as friends and family rally around Eric LeGrand
Credit: Mel Evans/AP

In a sad example of life imitating art, a Rutgers student is now paralyzed below the neck after a tackle in the fourth quarter of a game Saturday went bad.

Echoing events in the pilot episode of the popular NBC TV show Friday Night Lights, defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, a junior from Avenel, N.J., was injured when he slammed into Army’s Malcolm Brown on a kickoff.

It happened near the 25-yard-line, with the top of LeGrand’s helmet knocking into the opposing player’s left shoulder. LeGrand collapsed and lay still as medics rushed to help. By Sunday, it was clear that LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down, Rutgers announced. Rutgers won the game 23-20 in an overtime victory.

“Eric’s spirits were as good as you can expect,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said in a teleconference Sunday. “He was cognizant of me being there, his mom, everybody. He’s a fighter.”

LeGrand – who Schiano says is “a special guy and a guy who really loves to play the game” – had emergency surgery Saturday night at Hackensack University Medical Center, according to the New York Times.

His team refuses to give up on him. Citing the case of Penn State cornerback Adam Taliaferro who walked again after a spinal cord injury took him out of the game for good, Schiano said: “We’re going to believe. Eric LeGrand is going to walk onto that field with us. That’s what we believe.”