PISCATAWAY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The birthplace of college football is going to do something it has never done before when Rutgers takes on Eastern Michigan.
For the first time in the 144-year history of the program, the Scarlet Knights (1-1) are going to retire a number — the No. 52 worn by Eric LeGrand.
The 23-year-old has become one of the program’s most inspirational players. Despite a career-ending neck injury in a game against Army in 2010 that left him paralyzed from the neck down, LeGrand has become a national symbol of hope. His goal remains to walk again and he regularly speaks to organizations about overcoming obstacles.
“The most important message or the most important thing I try to say about Eric when people ask me questions about him is, Eric was every bit as inspirational, before anything happened,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “He was one of the first players who committed to his year in the recruiting class, and from the moment he stepped on our campus, he was a huge part of the athletic department, not just the football team.
“And all those characteristics about Eric, he’s continued to have them, even now. That is really the best thing I can tell people, because it’s not something that just started that day in Giants Stadium.”
The retirement ceremony will take place at halftime, and Flood said it’s just a temporary retirement of the number. Once LeGrand walks again, Flood said Rutgers will bring back the number for special occasions.
The game against Eastern Michigan (1-1) also will be first between the schools. The Eagles opened the season with a 34-24 win over Howard and were beaten 45-7 by Penn State last weekend.
Rutgers dropped a 52-51 overtime decision to Fresno State in its opener and defeated Norfolk State 38-0 last Saturday.
Eastern Michigan coach Ron English said there was a time when Mid-American Conference schools were happy to keep games against bigger programs close.
“That’s not good enough,” English said. “We should expect to win and go in there believing that we can win.”
Here are five things to watch for Saturday:
WHAT A DIFFERENCE: After finishing with one of the nation’s worst offenses in 2012, the Scarlet Knights have turned things around. The group is averaging 44.5 points. The rushing game, which had 273 yards last week, is No. 34 overall and the offense is ranked 39th overall. Former walk-on Paul James has 301 yards rushing.
SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN: There is still question about Rutgers’ defense, which lost seven starters after last season. Fresno State put up 52 points in the opener and Norfolk State had a goose egg in the second game. The Scarlet Knights probably fit somewhere in the middle of those two. Eastern Michigan has not been shut out in 57 games, the last one a 37-0 loss to Northern Illinois in 2008.
FEMALE LEADERS: There are currently seven Division I Football Bowl Subdivision female athletic directors among the 128 FBS programs in the country. The game between Eastern Michigan and Rutgers features two of them. Rutgers’ Julie Hermann and Eastern Michigan’s Heather Lyke have been in their respective roles for less than three months. The last meeting of FBS teams with female ADs was on Sept. 1, 2012, when Nevada’s Cary Groth faced Cal’s Sandy Barbour.
REPLACEMENT TIGHT END: Eastern Michigan quarterback Tyler Benz seems to have found a replacement after losing his favorite target from a year ago, All-MAC second-team tight end Garrett Hoskins. Junior tight end Tyreese Russell leads the Eagles with 10 catches for 101 yards. The Chicago native recorded career highs against Penn State: eight catches and 73 yards.
PUNTING AWAY: Eastern Michigan freshman punter Austin Barnes put his name in the school’s record book in his second game. He punted 11 times against Penn State for 461 yards. The total tied George Guzman for the fifth-most yards in one game. The Eagles’ record is held by Nick Avondet with 642 yards at Michigan State in 1999.
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