MOBILE, Ala. -- Former Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene admits what he’s been told: There was a football game -- one game -- when he hit “like a girl.”
Granted, it was only one game, but the truth hurt and a close friend felt he had to deliver the news to him. The messenger: Eric LeGrand, Greene’s teammate and former roommate at Rutgers who was paralyzed only one week earlier when he collided violently with Army kick returner Malcolm Brown.
That hit on Oct. 16, 2010 forever changed the life of LeGrand, who went from an enforcer on the Rutgers defensive line to an inspiration to many trying to overcome adversity. But LeGrand wasn’t about to let his life-altering spinal cord injury diminish the style of play he loved to see from Greene, a linebacker at Rutgers.
When Greene naturally and understandably went soft for a week, LeGrand let him know.
“Eric said I was tackling like a girl. He basically told me to stop playing like I was playing and get back into being physical and hit people,” said Greene, who admitted thoughts of LeGrand’s paralyzing injury were on his mind a week later. “From that game on, after I went to visit him, after that I was right back into it, just hitting people as hard as I could. For a quick second, it was on my mind and kind of affected me a little bit. But having that talk with him, that was it for me.”
Since October 2010, Greene has been building his draft stock and using LeGrand as inspiration along the way.
“It does make it precious, actually. It just lets you know that you can’t take anything for granted,” Greene said after Tuesday’s practice at the Senior Bowl all-star game in Mobile, Ala. “This opportunity comes once in a lifetime. It’s unfortunate what happened to Eric. He didn’t wake up knowing that was going to happen to him before the game and neither did I, neither did anybody. To see him going about life the way he is and bouncing back from it and the smile on his face and making other people smile -- inspiring people -- it’s just amazing to see all that happening. It taught me a valuable lesson in life, and that’s not to take anything for granted.”
Eric LeGrand's road to recovery has been an inspiration on former roommate Khaseem Greene.
LeGrand went from needing a ventilator to breathe -- something doctors said would likely be a lifetime necessity -- to breathing on his own for 90 minutes only three months later. Not long after that, he resumed his studies at Rutgers via Skype.
Meanwhile, Greene has been building his football resume for the past four years at Rutgers. He was originally recruited as a safety, but he is now considered one of the top outside linebackers available for April’s NFL draft and should be selected somewhere in the first two rounds.
This week has been spent trying to impress anyone who will watch him, and there are plenty. Every NFL team sends its scouting staff and most of the coaching staffs are well-represented, too, as they search for the next NFL stars in the making. Greene wants to be one of those stars.
“It means everything to me. Opportunities only come once in a lifetime, so you’ve got to make the most of every opportunity and that’s what I’m trying to do down here this week, just trying to take advantage of all the people watching -- all the coaches, all the scouts, all the executives, whoever is watching,” Greene said. “Just letting them know that I can play football, (and) at the same time that I can be a great person off the field.”
At 236 pounds, he considers himself a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball, and his 125 tackles and six forced fumbles in 2012 are further backing.
“I’m going to run to the ball, relentless to the ball and maximum effort and never give up on the play and just keep playing to the whistle,” he said.
Khaseem Greene is now one of the top-rated LB prospects for the NFL Draft.
“A playmaker is somebody that can cause turnovers, just cause havoc for a team -- quarterback pressures, the little things. ... At the same time, stripping people. That’s one of my things I like to do. I like to force fumbles so I’ve got a lot of those in my career, and interceptions. I just cause havoc.”
But after he’s done trying to prove himself in practices this week, he was one more goal to fulfill before the Senior Bowl game is played Saturday. He wants to get LeGrand to attend it.
“He told me if his schedule is free he’s going to come down,” Greene said. “We’ll see.
“He’s been an inspiration since the injury and since he began his fight and his journey. I feel like it’s my journey. Just knowing that he gets up every day and he gives it his all and he’s limited, that’s enough right there for me to get up and want to give it my all and never get down about my situation, never complain -- just go out here and play and practice as hard as I can.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.