Still in the game


Sports agent Jerrold Colton used to bring his son to the Eastern High School games down the street from his office in southern New Jersey, watching fabulous young cornerback Adam Taliaferro tear it up under the Friday night lights. Taliaferro had the promise to make a living playing professional football, and there was always a terrific chance that it would've been Colton representing him.

As it turned out, Taliaferro wouldn't make it out of September of his freshman season at Penn State, when his helmet collided with an Ohio State Buckeye's knee, crushing a vertebra and leaving Taliaferro paralyzed. His doctor's diagnosis was one his family never, ever allowed him to hear: He had a 3 percent chance to ever walk again. Taliaferro would hear the loudest ovation at Penn State's graduation in May, when everyone stood to cheer his walking across the stage to receive his degree in labor and industrial relations.

He's going to make it to the NFL, but in a way he had never imagined before that fateful September 2000 afternoon in Columbus, Ohio: as a sports agent.

"I think I can especially help guys understand that it can all change in an instant," Taliaferro said. "I think I can open their eyes to looking forward to their futures. I would press them on that."

Taliaferro is forever shaped by the way they looked after him at Penn State during his struggle to get back on his feet, the way Joe Paterno sent an ex-assistant coach to live with him, the way Paterno himself flew to southern Jersey once a week to visit with his player, the way everyone in the Penn State community and beyond inspired him back on his feet. If some sports agents have a deserved rap for their unscrupulous greed, Taliaferro is driven to bring a different reputation to the profession.

Colton never did get to work for Taliaferro, but Taliaferro did get to work for Colton a year ago as a summer intern. Taliaferro started classes at Rutgers-Camden Law School last week, beginning with a contracts class. He soon found out his close pal, Colton, was correct in counseling him on what to expect: "Just a tremendous amount of reading."

He's going to be an agent, and he's going to bring something the profession could desperately use: a little humanity. His summer with Colton didn't just educate Taliaferro on the agent's job to negotiate contracts, but also his responsibility to steer his client's life beyond the football field. Every agent can tell his client that he had best prepare for life beyond the game, but no one can illustrate it like Taliaferro.

"What Adam will bring as an agent will be especially helpful, because it's a benefit to have played the game in representing an athlete," Colton said. "There are an awful lot of facets to representing an athlete, especially in football, where there is the constant threat of injury. Adam was a star player, heavily recruited, and on track for a pro career himself. There was a tragic ending to it, but he has developed so many different facets of his life. He's the complete package with a unique perspective."

Taliaferro could find himself back in the classroom with Colton, who teaches a sports law class at Rutgers-Camden. Even so, Colton still believes Taliaferro has taught him far more than he'll ever pass on to any student.

"I'm always trying to understand the full scope of what my clients have to deal with, but Adam can take that a step further than I can ever do," Colton said. "He has a great, additional perspective, and an athlete will respect him a lot for what he's gone through. He just has this constant positive outlook and a tremendous ability to overcome obstacles. He's nothing short of miraculous."

He has a long way to go in law school, way past that contracts class, but Adam Taliaferro is finally back on his way to the NFL.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj10@aol.com. His new book can be purchased in bookstores nationwide and on Amazon.com at this link: The Miracle Of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley And Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty.