Army shows support for Eric LeGrand

Army coach Rich Ellerson never appreciated an off week so much.

"It was a good time to have a week off," Ellerson said as his Black Knights returned to practice for Saturday's game against VMI at Michie Stadium.

The Black Knights needed time off since their overtime loss to Rutgers at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Oct. 16, when Eric LeGrand was left paralyzed from the neck down after tackling Army's Malcolm Brown on a kickoff return.

At the start of the week, LeGrand, a junior defensive tackle for the Scarlet Knights, had not shown any sign of improvement. The outpouring of support for the 20-year-old LeGrand has been a positive that Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said cannot be measured. He's received messages of support from fellow Big East coaches and administrators and people nationwide.

The Black Knights have felt the hurt as much as anybody. The players have prayed for and written cards to LeGrand, who underwent surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

"There's been a real effort on the team to reach out to Eric and his teammates and to the Rutgers football community and to support now and support for the long term, and a lot of thoughts and prayers," Ellerson said. "We're not strangers here to wounded warriors.

"We have a model for endurance here and an appreciation, culturally and institutionally, where maybe we can weigh in at some point and really make a difference, beyond the emotional support," Ellerson said.

That will start on Saturday when Army (4-3) hosts military rival VMI (3-4). The Black Knights will have red decals on their helmets with LeGrand's No. 52 and a small "R" for Rutgers in tribute.

The decals will remain for the rest of the season, and Ellerson said the Black Knights will be involved with LeGrand long after the season-ending game against archrival Navy.

That Rutgers and West Point are less than 100 miles apart figures to help the healing process.

"The thing that maybe sets us apart is that we're up the street," Ellerson said. "Right now, they're being overwhelmed with support and love. In the months to come, when the hard work is still going to be ongoing, we're in there for the long haul. Coach Schiano and I have spoken and communicated and will continue to do so. Right now, they almost need a little space."

In the violent collision that injured LeGrand, his helmet slammed the left shoulder of Brown and sent him backward to the turf. Brown, who leads Army in all-purpose yards, suffered a broken left collarbone, but the damage is not as bad as originally thought.

"I'll be surprised if he plays this week," Ellerson said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see him able to play against Air Force [on Nov. 6]."

Army returns to action and what has been an impressive second season under Ellerson.

Army leads the country in turnover margin at plus-1.57.

Army has not lost back-to-back games. The last time the Black Knights went through an entire season without losing two straight was 1996, when they finished 10-2.

Army is ranked eighth in the country in rushing at 276 yards per game and has 24 rushing touchdowns. The Black Knights are on pace to score at least 30 touchdowns on the ground for the first time since the 1996 team had 33.

Army is averaging 30.6 points per game. The Black Knights have not averaged 30 points for a season since 1985.

Army is coming off an Academy record-setting performance of eight sacks against Rutgers. That pushed the season sack total to 20, four shy of the team record set in 1999.

Army is ranked 25th in the nation against the rush, allowing 117 yards per game.

The head coach isn't letting it go to his head.

"I think he's one ahead of .500, so he's pretty good -- 4-3 is pretty good," Ellerson said. "A couple more wins he'd be good, but right now he's pretty good."

Overall, Ellerson is 9-10 at West Point and a win over VMI would make him the fastest coach to 10 wins since Tom Cahill won 10 of his first 12 games during the 1966 and '67 seasons.