Adam Taliaferro only played a handful of games for Penn State before suffering a career-ending spinal injury in his freshman season, against Ohio State.

Originally expected to be paralyzed for life, Taliaferro is moving freely, at a fast pace these days. He is an attorney and was elected in November to the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

And the former Inquirer South Jersey football player of the year from Eastern High, remains a staunch supporter of his college coach Joe Paterno.

The subject of Paterno brings mixed emotions to many fans, the iconic legendary Penn State football coach who brought the university to national prominence.

Then there is the other side. Prior to his death on Jan. 22, Paterno was criticized by many for not doing enough in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.

Few are neutral about Paterno, but Taliaferro spoke forcefully about the merits of the man he admires. Taliaferro was a guest speaker at Monday's Philadelphia Sports Writers Association at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill.

A 2000 graduate of Eastern, Taliaferro spoke of the first time he met the coach.

"He looked at me and said, 'Taliaferro you have a fine Italian name.' " Taliaferro recalled.

Except. . .

"I said Mr. Paterno, I'm not Italian.' "

That drew laughter from the large crowd, but then Taliaferro turned serious.

"My career was over and every day he would ask me what do you want to do with your life," he recalled. "More than any football player, he wanted me to be successful after football."

Taliaferro told the audience how his former coach would frequently make the 31/2-hour drive to see him in the hospital shortly after he suffered his injury.

Later, Paterno would make phone calls, write letters of recommendations for jobs on the behalf of Taliferro.

"He went beyond what any coach would do," Taliaferro said.

It's something that Taliaferro never forgot.

"He was one of the most genuine down to earth, simple people I met in my life," he told the attentive audience. "To play for him and be a friend, all you had to do was work hard, be respectful, go to class. That is all he wanted."

Taliaferro realized that some people will never be convinced of all the good Paterno did, but all he can do is rely on his personal experience.

"The last few months there has been a lot of craziness," Taliaferro said. "Since he passed, I think of the man who built Penn State. Who did a lot of good things for a lot of people."

Taliaferro said that Paterno was a true teacher and motivator.

"He said no matter what you do in life, make an impact and that is what I have tried to do," he said.

In closing, Taliaferro expressed his gratitude for the ability to relate stories to the audience about a man he greatly admires.

"It's an honor to talk a little about Coach Paterno," Taliaferro said. "As we know, he was a great man and I hope you can all remember the great things he did."

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225,, or @sjnard on Twitter.