Taliaferro nearly left paralyzed by tackle as freshman

Updated: May 17, 2005, 12:08 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Like 1,100 of his peers, Adam Taliaferro walked across the stage to receive his diploma from Penn State on Saturday.

But Adam Taliaferro is unlike his fellow graduates.

Adam Taliaferro
Taliaferro served as a player coach for the Nittany Lions in the seasons after his injury.

Four and a half years ago, as a freshman, Taliaferro was left paralyzed and fighting for his life.

Taliaferro suffered a severe spinal injury while making a tackle in the Nittany Lions' game against Ohio State on Sept. 23, 2000.

Several doctors predicted Taliaferro would never walk again, but just five months after the injury, having undergone spinal-fusion surgery, that's exactly what he did.

And on Saturday, Taliaferro's graduation march ignited a raucous ovation from the ceremony's crowd, the Philadelphia Inquirer observed.

"It was out of control for 15 seconds," Adam's 18-year-old brother, Alex Taliaferro, told the paper. "They had asked us not to clap for anyone, but ... "

Adam Taliaferro, who earned his degree in labor and industrial relations, told the paper he was "surprised" by the crowd's reaction, even though he'd received a similarly warm reception in September, 2001, when, just 11 months after his injury, he walked, then skipped and jogged onto the field at Beaver Stadium in front of a record crowd of more than 109,000.

"I really appreciate everything everyone has done for me," Taliaferro said in a statement released by the university. "I have many fond memories of how I was accepted by everyone after my injury and how the people at Penn State were so willing to go out of their way to help me."

Taliaferro, now 23, began taking a full course load in the 2001 fall semester while continuing his rehabilitation and, over the past three and a half years, has recovered 85-90 percent of the physical abilities he had before fracturing his C-5 vertebrae.

Taliaferro, who graduated with a 3.2 grade point average, now turns his focus toward law school; he'll begin classes at Rutgers-Camden on May 31.

But he'll also be continuing his recovery this summer, when he undergoes tendon-transfer surgery to repair nerve damage in his right hand that prevents him from opening his hand fully.

"I've heard the first year of law school is hard," Taliaferro said with a smile to the paper, "but like anything else, if you work hard enough, you'll get through it."