Gathered at the Classic Center on Sunday, Georgia’s football team was decked out in its best formal wear to receive awards and recognize the senior class after another season.
To make the night a little more special, Georgia’s staff had a little surprise in store.
Devon Gales was in attendance for the second consecutive year as he continues to rehab his injured C6 vertebrae, which occurred against Georgia as a member of the Southern Jaguars’ football team Sept. 26, 2015. Since, he has been deemed a “family member” of the Bulldogs.
Not to his knowledge, the university yet again showed its commitment to the family and Gales went from a normal spectator to the main focus of the festivities. He was brought to the center of the stage to receive the David Jacobs Award.
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“I knew that he would get it because (director of sports training) Ron (Courson) called me earlier in the week, but we didn’t tell Devon because he wanted it to be a surprise,” said Devon’s mother, Tanisha Gales. “Devon was totally shocked; he didn’t know until they rolled him up to the stage.”
The award is given in honor of Jacobs, a former Georgia nose tackle who recovered from a stroke suffered during the 2001 season.
It has been awarded to players on the roster who have displayed courage and have undergone bouts of adversity throughout the season. It goes to another level for Gales, who spends two hours each day at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta attempting to reach his goal to walk again.
Bryant Gantt, Georgia’s director of player wellness, spoke on why the former Southern wide receiver was chosen.
“We felt he’s the one guy who has displayed courage, a great spirit, good character and the determination,” Gantt said. “Although he is not one of our immediate players, we felt that he is a part of our family and by that we felt he was qualified and where deserving of that award.”
After the emotions of nearly crying and being at a loss for words went through his head, Gales was able to reflect on the honor.
“Words can’t explain how much this means to me,” he said. “Just to accept an award from another school that I’ve never played at before. I’m truly blessed to be adopted into the Georgia family.”
Gantt continues to support the Gales family by regularly visiting Gales. In August, Gantt helped the family fly back to their temporary home in Atlanta after flooding affected its permanent residence in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Gales’ injury occurred when former Georgia head coach Mark Richt was at the helm. While Richt is now the head coach at Miami, his successor, Kirby Smart, continues to allow support for the Gales family to come from the university.
“As a university, we plan to be here for him and always consider him as one of our family members,” Gantt said. “As for myself, I promised him I would be there when he walks again and I plan on keeping that promise. My day-to-day visits and communications will continue for an eternity. I’m apart of him family now and I just want to thank his parents for allowing me to be.”
The memory is nearly unforgettable. An unintentional collision with former Georgia place-kicker Marshall Morgan brought Sanford Stadium to a dead silence. From that moment, those involved with the program — directly and indirectly — have kept Gales in their thoughts.
Georgia’s players belong in that group as well, using Gales’ work in the rehab gym as motivation to succeed on the gridiron, especially in an adversity-filled season.
“Just all throughout life, people are here today and gone tomorrow,” said Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, recipient of a co-defensive MVP award. “That’s just my whole motto. And then for example, I’ve seen it clearly with Devon Gales. He was all fine one play, and then the next play his whole life changed. Little things like that really make you think.”