Running with a football has always come easy to Milford running back Brandon Legrand. So much so that he holds the all-time career rushing mark at his school with 3,681 yards to date, with at least one regular season and possibly a playoff game or more remaining before his record-setting high school career is over.
But for Legrand, not everything has come as easy as running a football. Take reading for instance — something his teammates take for granted, but a skill the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior has yet to master. Legrand, who aspires to play in college, has struggled with reading his entire life. But he isn’t hiding it. Instead, like the opposing tacklers he so often dodges or runs through, he is facing the disability head on.
"I read stuff I’m really interested in, like sports," says Legrand, who has rushed for 1,324 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. "I try to read as much as I can to improve. I used to hate reading until the coaches started telling me to read for enjoyment. And it has really opened up my world to reading."
Legrand has used football as a way to prove to others that just because he might need more time than others to complete a test, it doesn’t mean he’s willing to let it slow him down in other aspects of his life. And because of this, just as he has earned the respect of opponents on the field, Legrand has earned the admiration of others off it.
"We made it a goal that I wanted him reading whenever or whatever he could, including books, magazines or newspapers," said Milford coach Mike Tkach, who has coached Legrand all four years. "He worked on improving this, and last spring he met his reading goal for the semester and for the first time in high school, and I can tell you he wasn't the only person excited and proud. Our teachers and fellow coaches were so excited for him."
Legrand’s commitment in the classroom is matched only by his dedication on the football field, where Tkach says he’s been vital to the program’s recent success, which includes a state championship last season.
"He has been such an important part of this program over the last few years. He is the type of kid you love to work with. He always has a smile on his face, leads by example and works so hard to be the best that he can be."
Tkach calls the modest Legrand his "lethal weapon" because of his ability to break tackles and score with breakaway speed, evident this past Friday night when Legrand scored on touchdown runs of 55, 69 and 49 yards in the Bucs’ win over rival Dover.
Legrand’s success stems from a combination of raw physical talent coupled with sheer determination and grit. And it’s those same characteristics that will undoubtedly take Legrand to the next level, and not just on the football field, but more importantly, in the classroom.
"I’m working on getting my grade point average up right now so we can start the recruiting process," Legrand said. "I hope to attend either Wesley College (Dover, Del.) or Delaware State University and play football, and possibly major in sports medicine.
"My coaches have made me realize that although I always used to put football first and hated school, my academics are much more important in the long run. I can’t thank my coaches enough for motivating me."
When asked what message he might share with a classroom full of special-education students, Legrand said it would be the same one he has learned: "Take the time to practice more on the things you struggle with, because the more you practice the better you will get. It takes a lot of time but if you keep practicing it, eventually it will come to you. Always give it your best shot."
As the co-captain tries to rally his team to one last win and hopefully a playoff berth, he says he has delivered a similar message to his teammates: "Just play your hearts out, give it your best shot and leave everything on the field; and then hopefully good things will happen."
It is the core meaning of those two messages by which the aspiring young man approaches not only every football game, but more importantly, each time he faces a challenge in a much bigger game — the game of life. It’s a message we should all live by, poignantly crafted and delivered by Legrand, almost as if he had read it in a book.
Division I: St. Mark’s (8-1); A.I. du Pont (9-0); Salesianum (7-2); Sussex Tech (8-1); Concord (7-2).
Division II: Caravel (7-2); Hodgson (7-2); Howard (8-1); Delmar (6-3); Pencader Charter (7-2).
Jon Buzby is the sports columnist for the Newark Post, a freelance writer, and occasional color commentator for the 1290am The Ticket High School Football Game of the Week. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.