By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 12, 2014) – Two of the most inspiring players in the history of Rutgers and Penn State football will be re-united when the schools meet for the first time as Big Ten opponents on Sept. 13 at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Eric LeGrand of Rutgers and Penn State’s Adam Taliaferro, forever linked through horrific spinal cord injuries suffered on the field and their courageous recovery efforts that followed, will serve as honorary game captains when the Scarlet Knights face the Nittany Lions in their Big Ten debut, it was announced today.
Both players will be on the field for the pre-game coin toss.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” said LeGrand, whose No. 52 is the only retired jersey in Rutgers history. “Adam is a role model for me. From meeting him for the first time, seeing him on his feet again when doctors told him he’d never be on his feet, he has really pushed me during my recovery.
“He’s still a big inspiration to me.”
For Taliaferro, the feeling is mutual.
“For me, it’s an absolute honor to share this with Eric,” he said. “Eric has inspired me ever since his injury and continues to do so each and every day.”
Taliaferro suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury making a tackle against Ohio State in a game on Sept. 23, 2000. Paralyzed by the injury when he ruptured his 5th cervical vertebrae and bruised his spinal cord, the Voorhees, N.J. native was given a five percent chance by doctors of ever walking again.
He has made a full recovery.
LeGrand was paralyzed while making a tackle on a kickoff against Army at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 16, 2010, fracturing both his C-3 and C-4 cervical vertebrae. Though he remains confined to a wheel chair, paralyzed from the neck down, LeGrand said he has gained some trunk movement and occasionally has sensation in his fingers.
“What makes this so special for me is that Adam was in touch with me from the very beginning,” said LeGrand. “I remember when I was first transferred to Kessler Institute; he came to see me the first month and a half. He has been supporting me and encouraging me from the start.”
It’s LeGrand’s relentless determination to walk again that has Taliaferro convinced the Scarlet Knights’ former defensive lineman will eventually do so.
“I remember seeing Eric a couple of days after his injury,” Taliaferro recalled, “and I remember the first thing he told me is `I’m going to be just like you. I’m going to walk out of this.’ For him to still have that same tenacity to this day, as I said, Eric continues to inspire me. I believe in my heart he will get up and walk someday.”
LeGrand, an Avenel, N.J. native who starred at Colonia High School, will also be working as a radio analyst for the Rutgers Radio Network during the Penn State game, doing a pre-game, halftime and post-game report.
“The atmosphere will be electric for our first Big Ten game under the lights and it’s phenomenal that we can have Eric and Adam serve as honorary game captains,” said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. “We would be hard pressed to find two people who exemplify everything that is right about their respective programs more than Eric and Adam. I know they have formed a special bond and we are thrilled to have both of them take part in a historic night at High Point Solutions Stadium.”
LeGrand graduated from Rutgers in May with a degree in Labor Relations. He was among the speaker during commencement ceremonies as well.
“Everything that has been happening to me recently just shows you how great Rutgers University continues to be to me,” said LeGrand. “They’re keeping my name involved with so many great things at the school. It’s why I care so much about Rutgers. It’s all very touching.”
LeGrand and Taliaferro have both created foundations to help find a cure for paralysis while helping improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.
For LeGrand, it is Team LeGrand of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Rutgers University also established the Believe Fund to assist LeGrand during his recovery efforts.
Taliaferro created the Adam Taliaferro Foundation in 2001.
A member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, Taliaferro earned his law degree from Rutgers School of Law-Camden in 2008. He currently works for Bristol Myers Squibb.
LeGrand provided one of the sports highlights of 2011 when he led Rutgers onto the field in a snow storm for a game against West Virginia on Oct. 29 in his wheel chair, his arms locked in those of his teammates. That was voted Sports Illustrated’s “Best Moment of 2011.”