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October 28, 2011Rutgers' Eric LeGrand and Army's Malcolm Brown are forever connected by their catastrophic collision in their game a year ago.
It's an image frozen in video tape and time as LeGrand lies on the turf paralyzed and Brown stands nearby. Brown, who was returning a kickoff when LeGrand hit him, had suffered a broken collar bone on the play, but he was nearly oblivious to his own injury as he got back to his feet.
"I was more concerned about him than me," he said. ?
But this is more than a story of a fateful moment and two individual comebacks. A bond was formed that Brown says will last long beyond college. They send e-mails, talk on the phone and Brown and teammate Trent Steelman visited with LeGrande last summer. ?
"This has changed my life and his life," Brown said. "We will definitely keep in contact." ?
LeGrand is about to enjoy a celebrated day leading his former Rutgers teammates on to the field against West Virginia on Saturday. It's a comeback story that has attracted national media attention for his inspiring battle with paralysis. ?
"It was amazing to see how passionate he was and how much he believed he could walk again and step out on the field again," Brown said of his visit with LeGrand. "It amazed me and inspired me a lot." ?
? By then, Brown had been forced to deal with his own physical and mental blocks to overcome that harrowing moment. After missing four games with his injury, he faced his first football contact in a month when Army played its fiercest rival, Navy. ?
But Brown wasn't alone. There was support from his Army teammates. ?
"We're a brotherhood," Brown said. "All the guys were looking out for me." ?
And there was inspiration from his bond with LeGrand. ?
"He's motivated me to believe you can do anything and to never quit," Brown said. "Never let someone tell you that you can't do something. He's obviously proving that every day. People said he wouldn't walk again." ?
LeGrand, a defensive lineman, is still in a wheelchair, but he has been able to stand as part of his arduous rehab work. He has worked as a Rutgers radio analyst for Scarlets Knights games this season, but he chose Saturday's game with the No. 25-ranked Mountaineers to take up Rutgers coach Greg Schiano's offer to lead the team out of the tunnel for a game this season. ?
Army and Rutgers will meet Nov. 12 at Yankee Stadium, but with attention focused on LeGrand leading his team onto the field, Brown was asked to talk about his own comeback and his friendship with LeGrand as Army prepares for its own game against Fordham Saturday at Michie Stadium. ?
"I try to check on him a lot," Brown said of following media reports. "The last time I saw him he was standing. I told him congratulations." ?
Brown says LeGrand also helped him cope with any feelings of guilt that he escaped the fate of suffering injuries similar to LeGrande. He turned his head an instant before the collision or it would have been helmet-to-helmet hit.
"He says, 'Don't worry about it. It's the game of football. Things like that happen. It's an accident. You shouldn't feel bad.' " ?
Brown, a 5-foot-11, 180 pound junior slotback, has already matched last year's statistics. ?
In nine games a year ago, he carried 62 times for 343 yards with four touchdowns and caught five balls for 92 yards and two touchdowns. ?
In seven games this season for the Black Knights, he's rushed 49 times for 350 yards - an average of 7.1 yards per carry - and two touchdowns. He's also caught three balls for 93 yards and a touchdown. ?
"I feel a lot more explosive, and I try to give it my all out there," he said. ?
Brown hasn't returned kicks this year after returning 13 a year ago, but that's a coaching staff decision. ?
"I'd return kicks if they put me back there," he said. ?
The inspiration Brown draws from LeGrand is similar to the perseverance he saw in his father, Roscoe, a retired New York City Fire Department Lieutenant. Brown was a young boy at the time of 9/11, but he was aware of his father's dedication when he worked night after night at Ground Zero. ?
"His willingness to try and help recover bodies of his friends and other firefighters really inspired me to come West Point," Brown said. "He would be down at Ground Zero all night and he would back the next night."
Brown says his life and education at West Point has instilled the same character in him. It helped him comeback for last year's Navy game. ?
"You always keep pushing to finish the season," Brown said. "You finish the mission."