ATHENS — Devon Gales positioned his wheelchair near the end of the field, the same field where his life was changed forever, and turned to face the men in red jerseys coming through. Each would offer at least a handshake. Some, including Marshall Morgan, reached down to hug and talk to him.
“How ya doing?” Morgan asked cheerfully as he grabbed Gales’ hand. They embraced, and the rest of their short conversation was inaudible.
It was in September that Gales, playing for the Southern football team, was paralyzed from the waist down after a collision with Morgan, the kicker for the Georgia football team. The exchange before Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern is believed to be the first time the two have been able to meet in person since then, though Morgan visited the family in the hospital.
“It made me feel closer to him,” Gales said later of Morgan. “It’s tough for him.”
Saturday was the first time Gales had returned to Sanford Stadium, or any football field.
“Just to be back out here. I missed the feel,” Gales said. “It’s phenomenal.”
Georgia put out the red carpet, with head coach Mark Richt, his wife Katharyn, athletics director Greg McGarity all stopping to talk with Gales. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer also hung with Gales and his family for a few minutes, as did the various team staffers who have assisted Gales and the family: Team chaplain Thomas Settles, program coordinator Bryant Gantt, head athletic trainer Ron Courson and others.
Injured Georgia tailback Nick Chubb, on crutches, also came over to greet Gales and pose for photos.
Richt and Gales spoke for about a minute after posing for photos. When Richt reached across to hug him, Gales appeared to kiss Richt on his right arm.
Asked what Richt said to him, Gales answered: “Stay strong, and fight through this. And that I’ll make it.”
Gales was wearing a red-and-black shirt that spelled out GALES, but with the first letter in Georgia’s logo. He also wore a red Georgia headwarmer. After all that’s happened, and UGA’s support for him, Gales said he is now a Georgia fan “for the long haul. It’s a family that I never knew about.”
Gales, who has spent the last two months undergoing rehabilitation at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, opened up about the situation in this article this week by the AJC’s Steve Hummer.
“I’m happy where I’m at now. I’m ready to see how the Lord will have me feel without the (wheel)chair — or with the chair,” Gales said.