Adam Taliaferro inspired Penn State students and alumni everywhere in 2000 after he was paralyzed in a football game against Ohio State and made a storybook recovery despite dire predictions.
It appears many of those same fans once again have put their faith in Taliaferro, now 30 and a Cherry Hill lawyer, to help their alma mater in the aftermath of the child sex-abuse scandal still rocking the campus.
Taliaferro was the top vote-getter among candidates for three open alumni seats on the Pennsylvania State University board of trustees in the most highly contested race in the school's history. Of the more than 37,500 alumni who voted in the election - by far a record - 15,629 chose Taliaferro.
"I'm still kind of amazed," Taliaferro said from his office at Duane Morris L.L.P. shortly after the results were announced at the board of trustees meeting in State College. "I'm blessed and humbled by the amount of support I've received. They put a lot of trust in me."
Taliaferro watched the trustees meeting live from his office with three close friends who supported him throughout the campaign. He said he had no idea he had won until the announcement was made.
His agenda is simple and clear.
"I just want to do everything and anything I can do to move the school forward," Taliaferro said.
Coming in second and also winning a seat was Anthony P. Lubrano, a 1982 graduate and wealthy donor from Glenmoore, Chester County, whose name is on the school's baseball park. He waged a $25,000 television ad campaign and received more than 10,000 votes.
Ryan J. McCombie, a 1970 graduate and former Navy SEAL captain from the State College area, won the third seat.
Just how much impact the new members can have on such a large board - there are 32 members - is unclear but bears watching.
More than 80 candidates vied for the open seats, a record for the university. They were from near and far and represented a variety of professions. Candidates had to secure 50 alumni signatures to earn a position on the ballot. Online voting began in early April and concluded Thursday.
Lubrano said in an earlier interview that he was moved to run for the board after the trustees fired Joe Paterno as head football coach in November. Trustees said Paterno had not done enough to bring to light a 2002 allegation that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, now facing trial, sexually assaulted a young boy in a campus shower. Paterno subsequently died of cancer.
Throughout his campaign, Lubrano, who is close to the Paterno family, criticized the board for its handling of the Sandusky case and treatment of Paterno.
Lubrano, who operates a financial-services firm, became a controversial figure with his ardent campaigning. His baseball record at Penn State also was called into question - he repeatedly was listed in a school guide as a four-year letter-winner and described himself as a varsity team member, though he admitted never lettering or even playing in an official game. Nor did his name appear on any roster, according to a Penn State spokesman.
His behavior was described as rude and aggressive toward some female members of the athletic department, multiple sources told The Inquirer. And investigators hired by the university to unravel the sex-abuse case complained about his conduct, according to a memo a team member wrote. Lubrano disputed the assertions.
He attended the board meeting Friday and accepted congratulations from those who approached, but declined to comment to an Inquirer reporter.
McCombie, who works as an independent business consultant, was not at the meeting and did not return a call for comment.
The new members will take their seats before July 1. Their terms are three years.
Also Friday, the board accepted the appointment of two trustees selected by agricultural groups. Carl T. Shaffer of Mifflinville was reappointed. Newly elected was Donald G. Cotner of Danville.
The board also reappointed two members to represent business and industry. They are Kenneth C. Frazier, president of Merck & Co., and Edward R. Hintz Jr., president of HHR Asset Management L.L.C., a private money-management firm in New Jersey.
Gov. Corbett did not act on his two appointments at the meeting.
A 2005 graduate, Taliaferro recalled how the Penn State community rallied around him when he suffered a spinal-cord injury while playing for the football team.
"Penn State was there for me when I couldn't walk," he said.
Taliaferro said his campaign mostly consisted of social-media connections, via Facebook and Twitter, and appearances on campus whenever possible.
"I tried to talk to as many people as I could," he said.
Also at the meeting, Frazier said an updated report on the trustees' internal investigation of the Sandusky matter was due before mid-June. The final report is likely to be done before the start of the next academic year, Frazier said.
Meanwhile, Penn State president Rodney Erickson reported that applications are up 2 percent and the school is expecting a record freshman class.