Former Penn State cornerback Adam Taliaferro, who knows first-hand the fear that results from a paralyzing spinal injury, says encouragement will play the biggest role for Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand's future.
Taliaferro shattered a bone in his neck and severely bruised his spinal cord making a tackle late in a game at Ohio State in September 2000.
Five months later, he was able to walk.
"He's probably going to hear a lot of negative news from a lot of people," Taliaferro told The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., of LeGrand. "But everyone around him -- his friends, his family, his teammates -- have to keep it positive. He's facing some tough times ahead. He needs to stay in a positive frame of mind. That made a difference for me."
LeGrand was paralyzed below the neck while making a tackle Saturday during a game against Army at New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. He will remain hospitalized at Hackensack University Medical Center for the near future after having emergency surgery overnight Saturday for his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae.
Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano said Monday it was not appropriate to update LeGrand's medical status at this time.
"The toughest part immediately is the mental aspect," said Taliaferro, who practices law in Cherry Hill, N.J., a suburb east of Philadelphia. "That's why he's going to need everyone around him to stay positive. His life has changed. But being a football player, he's in good shape. He knows what it means to work hard. So he has that going for him. One of the things that helped me recover is that I was an athlete."
Schiano, who had tears in his eyes during his news conference after Rutgers' 23-20 overtime win, talked to his team about LeGrand around noon on Sunday.
"Eric's spirits were as good as you can expect," said Schiano, who visited with him before and after surgery. "He was cognizant of me being there, his mom, everybody.
"He's a fighter."
Schiano was asked during a conference call Monday if LeGrand had experienced movement or feeling since he was injured. The coach said he wants to refrain from giving daily medical updates but will provide information when appropriate.
LeGrand was hurt with 5:10 to play in the fourth quarter against Army, making a violent tackle on Malcolm Brown on the kickoff return after Rutgers tied the game at 17. The Avenel resident who played at Colonia High School -- just 15 minutes from Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway -- appeared to duck his head while making the hit.
"As I talked to our team, we're just going to believe that Eric LeGrand is going to walk onto that field again with us," Schiano said. "That's what we believe. We'll see with the speed of which that happens."
Taliaferro told the Newark newspaper he learned of LeGrand's injury while celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Adam Taliaferro Foundation, which assists people with spine injuries. Taliaferro said he hopes to be in touch with LeGrand and his family soon.
"I'm going to tell him is that the first thing doctors told me is that I would never walk again," Taliaferro said. "I had a very bad prognosis. Three percent chance. That's what they told me it was for me to walk again. I'd like to be an example for him."
Taliaferro said his father, who works for his son's foundation, has extended an offer of support to Schiano.
"His family is going to need support, too," Andre Taliaferro said. "Right now their concern is only for their son, but it will hit them soon," said the elder Taliaferro. "It's overwhelming as a parent. This is a catastrophic injury. That's why they need to keep him in a cocoon, to keep the negative information away from him. We did not let any negative information get to our son and we had tremendous support from a lot of people, especially the people at Penn State."
LeGrand was a member of the football team's leadership council for two years. Schiano said LeGrand is known for his work ethic and the way he cares for other players.
"Right now, the physical part is pretty much out of his hands," Adam Taliaferro said, according to the Star-Ledger. "He had his surgery. Now it's a waiting game to see how extensive the damage is and what the prognosis is.
"The main thing is he has to stay in a good frame of mind and stay positive. That's not going to be easy. But that's why he needs good support from everywhere -- his friends, his family, his teammates and Rutgers."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.