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Adam Taliaferro’s Miraculous Recovery Featured In Big Ten Network Documentary

The Big Ten Network debuted a documentary Tuesday night featuring former Penn State cornerback Adam Taliaferro and his road to recovery after suffering a severe spinal injury just five games into his freshman season.

The special, titled “The Big Moment: Adam Taliaferro,” began by highlighting Taliaferro’s journey to Happy Valley from Voorhees, New Jersey. A highly regarded cornerback prospect with over 45 scholarship offers, he was one of the few freshman in the class of 2000 who earned instant playing time under Joe Paterno.

As a result of Penn State’s unexpected 1-3 start, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley told Taliaferro to “be ready” for an increased role in the secondary. In week five of the 2000 season, the Nittany Lions began their in-conference slate with a matchup against Ohio State in Columbus.

The documentary then discussed his early days in the sport.

Since Taliaferro first began playing football at the age of seven, his parents never missed a game from pee-wee to high school ball. Due to the demanding travel schedule of college football, his parents decided to pick one game to watch on television rather than traveling from New Jersey. Ironically, Andre and Addie Taliaferro chose to view the Ohio State game from the comfort of their home.

The Nittany Lions struggled early against the Buckeyes and were down by multiple scores entering the fourth quarter. In an effort to help younger players gain valuable in-game experience, Taliaferro was selected by the coaching staff late in the contest.

In late action, he faced a life-altering obstacle after making a tackle along the sideline. While attempting to return to his feet after the conclusion of the play, Taliaferro remained motionless on the field of Ohio Stadium.

“I remember the impact, and then everything went dark,” Taliaferro recalled. “I was trying to adjust my helmet, but my arms wouldn’t move.  And, I tried to gather my legs, and nothing would move. There was no pain, it just felt like an electrical shock. Just like a tingling sensation from my neck down.”

After being rushed to the Ohio State Medical Center, doctors concluded that Taliaferro fractured the fifth cervical vertebrae in his spine, leaving him paralyzed. According to medical professionals, just 1-3% of people who suffer from the injury are able to regain movement.

“It took my soul, that game,” former teammate Anthony “Spice” Adams said during the documentary. “This is a time where you didn’t have cell phones, or you didn’t have Twitter. Imagine sitting on a flight with no information. It was one of the worst feelings in the world.”

Before Penn State’s home matchup with Purdue the following week, the team held a student-wide vigil on the steps of Old Main. Students coined the phrase “We Believe” to help motivate Taliaferro in his recovery efforts.

“The student body came together like something I’ve never seen before. It’s breathtaking, because some people never even had a chance to meet Adam,” Taliaferro’s former teammate and roommate Tony Johnson said.

After being transferred to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, Taliaferro couldn’t recall what day it was but wanted to watch the Nittany Lions’ next game against Purdue to cheer on his teammates. The team’s will to win for Taliaferro propelled the Lions to a 22-20 upset over the No. 19 ranked Boilermakers. After the game, coach Paterno looked into the camera and directed a message straight to the sidelined freshman himself.

“Adam, if you’re out there watching, we’re still praying, kid,” Paterno said. “We’re praying for you.”

The game provided Taliaferro with several moments of joy, but the following weeks served as a reality check. His frustration continued to mount with the inability to perform life’s simple tasks, such as brushing his teeth and getting dressed.

With encouragement from his father and the physical therapists, Adam attempted to move smaller parts of his body, with the hope that it would jump-start a full recovery. One night, at 2 a.m., Adam’s father, Andre, saw his bedsheets move, which resulted from him wiggling his toes. Immediately, Andre called the Penn State team doctor, Wayne Sebastianelli, to tell him the extraordinary news.

“That’s one of the most special moments of my life,” Sebastianelli recalled.

Each day served as a new discovery for Taliaferro. He was able to find a new movement through each new experience, which led to lifting weights with his upper body and harness training to regain movement in his legs. With the news of Taliaferro’s recovery in State College, Tom Bradley and Paterno asked if he would be interested in leading the team out of the tunnel during the 2001 season.

“It gave me something to look forward to,” Taliaferro said. “With football being taken away, I was struggling to find that passion again. I think just passion for life.”

In less than a year after his injury, Taliaferro was able return to campus. His balance continued to test his patience, but he was confident that he would be able to lead the team into Beaver Stadium by the beginning of the season. Dr. Sebastianelli treated him as if he were never injured in order to keep him hungry to achieve his goal.

As the build up to the season opener against Miami began, Taliaferro wrote a poem titled “When I Walk,” to express his outpouring of thankful thoughts for the people around him. The poem concluded with the heartfelt, “When I walk, it’s for Penn State!”, to express his gratitude for his university.

The day finally arrived, and Taliaferro once again felt the adrenaline only a game in Beaver Stadium can provide.

“I remember waking up the morning of the Miami game, and that was the first time I felt like a football player again,” he said. “I never felt that kind of energy in the stadium. Literally, I feel like every sign in there had my name on it.”

In front of over 109,000 fans, Taliaferro began to slowly walk out of the Beaver Stadium gates. After his name was announced, the crowd immediately erupted into applause. The support from the crowd gave Taliaferro an extra jolt of energy, as he began to jog from the end zone to the 25-yard line.

Big Ten Network

“It just felt like we were witnessing a miracle,” said Dr. Sebastianelli, who made his way to the sideline to capture the moment.

On that day, the nation realized what a special and determined man Taliaferro truly is. He had beaten remarkable odds and used his platform to help others persevere through difficult times.

“From the standpoint of a contribution to society, he has certainly made a bigger contribution than he ever could have made just being a football player,” Andre Taliaferro said to conclude the documentary.

The special is set to re-air several other times on BTN, including 1 p.m. Wednesday, 6 p.m. Thursday, and 3 p.m. Friday.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a freshman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania majoring in journalism. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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