September 10, 2014
Eric LeGrand, left, alumni of Rutgers University and Adam Taliaferro alumni of Penn State University, college football players who suffered serious spinal cord injuries on the field, laugh as they stand near posters before visiting children at PSE&G Child
Mel Evans

NEW BRUNSWICK. N.J. (AP) When the football schedule came out for Rutgers' inaugural Big Ten Conference season, Eric LeGrand and Adam Taliaferro came up with something special for the Penn State game.

Linked forever by spinal cord injuries, LeGrand and Taliaferro decided to make a game one with a cause instead of simply being a rivalry contest between the neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania schools.

''We thought it would be pretty cool if we could do something around the game,'' Taliaferro said Wednesday after making an appearance with LeGrand at to PSE&G's Children's Specialized Hospital, which treats children with life-changing illnesses throughout New Jersey.

LeGrand and Taliaferro will have a role Saturday when Penn State (2-0) plays Rutgers (2-0) in the kickoff to the Big Ten season. Taliaferro will serve as the Nittany Lions' honorary captain, while LeGrand will be the Scarlet Knights' honorary leader.

Both were paralyzed playing for the universities. Taliaferro learned to walk again. LeGrand still has that hope.

Wednesday was a special day for the two, who have become leaders in the fight against spinal cord injuries. They sat and talked with children being treated for brain injury, spinal cord injury, premature birth, autism and developmental delays.

''For me, it inspires me,'' Taliaferro, 32, said. ''You see these kids that have tough injuries. When I got injured I was a kid. I was 17. And to see these kids fighting, to see these kids smiling, if we could bring a smile to their face and give them some encouragement, that's what we're here for today.''

''When I was in my injury I always enjoyed meeting people who had overcome the injury and people that were very positive and Eric and myself, we're overcoming our injury every day,'' he said.

Despite being given on a three percent chance to walk again, Taliaferro walked out of the hospital four months after his injury making a tackle against Ohio State in 2000. He went on to graduate from Penn State before graduating from Rutgers Law School.

LeGrand was hurt making a tackle on special teams against Army in 2010. While he is confined to a wheel chair, he's made significant progress in his recovery over the past few years. Despite being told he may never breathe without a ventilator, he is breathing on his own. He graduated from Rutgers in May and now has a career as a sports broadcaster.

While he's happy to spread his message and share his story, it's not easy doing so to a room full of kids in a hospital.

''I don't like to see kids suffer,'' the 24-year-old LeGrand said. ''It's very tough, but as long as I can make them smile and put a smile on their face and share a little bit about my story and who I am and everything than that's a good day on me.''

The good friends will be rooting for different teams Saturday.

''I'll be ready to talk junk Saturday. I'm ready to talk junk now,'' LeGrand said. ''But when we go out there, the coin toss is going to be an amazing atmosphere, so I'm going to be ready to rip and roar.''

Afterward, it will be back to being friends. But both hope they can get together the week of the Penn State-Rutgers game on a yearly basis to raise spinal cord injury awareness.

''Next year they come up to our place and I know we'll host Eric warmly when he comes up to Penn State and hopefully we can do something with some of the hospitals up in our area,'' Talieferro said.

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