|08-20-2001, 02:31 PM||#1|
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: formally Boca Raton, FL, now Media, PA
One amazing freshman
One amazing freshman
AUGUST 20, 2001
The Sporting News
For a long while, Adam Taliaferro looked forward to Tuesday morning, August 21, 2001. At 9:50 a.m. that day, in a Penn State University class called Communications 150, he would become a freshman again. Later he'd take a seat in Biological Science 4. His two other fall semester classes most likely would be introductory courses in finance and business management.
Penn State's Comm 150 class is conducted in the Thomas Building.
That building is near Taliaferro's apartment.
It's a short walk away, maybe 10 minutes.
So he would walk over there.
Like everyone else.
Late on a September afternoon last fall, Taliaferro's body went to sleep.
"You know how it feels when your hand goes to sleep, or your leg?" he says. "That's what I felt laying there. I remember not being able to feel anything, except it felt like my whole body fell asleep. I didn't know what was going on, if I had a stinger or what."
A "stinger" is football jargon for trauma that transmits a burning sensation through nerves, most often nerves streaming from the neck into the upper body. It's a delicate term, "stinger." It suggests sharp pain that soon passes. It's a common injury in a game that asks its players to put their heads in harm's way.
Hundreds of times, Taliaferro says, he had hit ballcarriers the way he hit Jerry Westbrooks of Ohio State. A small defensive back at 5-10, 183, he took on a runner 6-2 and 231 pounds.
"He was big, so I went down to cut his legs out from under him," Taliaferro says.
What Taliaferro knows about the tackle is what he has seen on videotape. His helmet struck Westbrooks' knee. His head snapped back. He sagged to the earth, his body asleep.
"Now I've seen it so many times, it's like it's not me there," he says. "What I saw on the tape is a hit I've seen guys make all my life. I've made it plenty of times. And I never got hurt. This one was just inches different. And I hurt my neck."
No "stinger." A broken neck.
Adam Taliaferro could have been killed. We know that cold truth about his cold game. We know about the Vikings' Korey Stringer, Florida's Eraste Autin, Florida State's DeVaughan Darling and Northwestern's Rashidi Wheeler. He could have been paralyzed, as Washington's Curtis Williams was a month later in the same sad week when San Jose State's Neil Parry had his right foot and ankle amputated.
Some good fortune cannot be explained.
"Divine intervention," Adam Taliaferro's father has called it. "I'm blessed," the young man says, blessed in that the injury did not sever the nerves that make up the spinal cord.
Emergency paramedics on the field administered steroids to prevent swelling of the spinal-cord nerves. The next day, Ohio State Medical Center doctors did spinal fusion surgery (using bone and a metal pin to reinforce the injury site). Even with the good news that the spinal nerves were intact, doctors first believed the injury so traumatic they gave him maybe a 10 percent chance of walking again.
"But nobody told me that," Taliaferro says. "All I heard were my parents being optimistic. They always said I'd walk again. They filled me with positive energy."
A week after surgery, he moved his left leg. Then his hands and his right leg. His arms came next. For three months, from October 6 past his 19th birthday on New Year's Day to January 5, Taliaferro underwent rehabilitation therapy at the Magee Rehabilitation Center in Philadelphia, 15 miles from his home in Voorhees, N.J.
At Magee, he worked as much as six hours a day to rebuild the strength necessary first to lift his arms and legs, then to use them. There he learned to walk again, first harnessed to a treadmill, later on his own with hand crutches.
He counts "the first step at Magee" as one of the three happiest moments in his remarkable journey. The others are an April trip to Ohio State "to thank all the people who saved my life," and this summer's return to Penn State "for school and a normal life."
Twice a day now, he lifts weights. "Not what I lifted before, but some," he says. He walks without crutches and is eager to run again, but slowly recovering muscles have left his right knee unstable. "I'm at a fast walk on my way to jogging."
He sits in on football team meetings with defensive backs, chipping in a word now and then, "especially to young guys who have a lot to learn," he says.
Occasionally, he'll catch himself thinking he's still a player.
"A couple days ago, watching our USC game, I realized, 'Man, I'm watching to see if I did anything wrong that I can correct.' But there's no more football for me. Hey, if I did anything like that, my parents would kill me."
Still, the young man has a plan. He'll stand on the sideline for Penn State home games this fall. Then, one happy day in Happy Valley, when coach Joe Paterno runs onto the Beaver Stadium field with his Nittany Lions, Adam Taliaferro says, "I'll run with them."
Dave Kindred is a contributing writer for The Sporting News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.