Southern wide receiver Devon Gales has never been far from his teammates’ thoughts since he suffered a severe spinal injury in loss at Georgia last month.

The Jaguars have been wearing Gales’ No. 33 on their helmets, they receive regular updates on the progress he’s making in rehabilitation and for homecoming last week, No. 33 was painted on both 33-yard lines in A.W. Mumford Stadium.

Gales’ teammates lost that game to Prairie View 47-42, but running back Lenard Tillery said Gales remains an inspiration to his teammates.

The Jaguars were hopelessly behind 47-36 with a few seconds remaining when Tillery caught a swing pass from Austin Howard, cut back and sped up the sideline for a 54-yard touchdown as time expired.

The touchdown merely made the margin of defeat small and statistics bigger, but it had symbolic meaning as well.

“Whenever you have an opportunity to be out there, you should be playing at 100 percent,” Tillery said of his determination to score. “It goes back to the Devon Gales situation. Whenever he was out there, whether it was scout-team reps or game reps he was going 110 percent, regardless. Whenever you’re on the field you have to play like that.”

More support for Gales

On behalf of the SU System Foundation, Southern Parents & Teachers Federal Credit Union (FCU) is accepting contributions for The Devon Gales Fund. Members are allowed to donate in person at any credit union branch or at any shared branching location.

SU Athletics and the foundation started the fund in an effort to provide financial assistance to Gales and his family to cover medical expenses.

“Devon has a long road ahead of him,” FCU President and CEO Eldridge Etienne said in a statement. “Southern Parents & Teachers FCU wants to support the fund that was established by SU System Foundation and remind Devon that the entire Southern University family is behind him during his recovery. We continue to keep the young athlete in our prayers.”

The Devon Gales Fund is the official fundraising platform of Southern University. Donations can be made online by visiting The Devon Gales Fund webpage at https://netcommunity.sus.edu/the-devon-gales-fund.

Silver lining

Though Prairie View made the plays necessary to win, Southern felt it contributed to the Panthers’ cause with litany of self-inflicted wounds.

Coach Dawson Odums found a silver lining in Tillery’s effort and that of his teammates until the end.

“When you turn the ball over four times, you have two drops, you get stopped on fourth down, you get PATs blocked, a coach would look at that and usually that’s a blowout,” Odums said. “For our guys to hang in there and keep fighting, keep plugging away and keep trying to make plays to get back in the game (is a positive).”

Not so special

Among Southern’s mistakes were uncharacteristic special teams breakdowns.

Greg Pittman dropped a punt snap at his goal line, setting up the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Prairie View blocked two of Pittman’s extra points and Mike Jones was stopped on a two-point conversion try.

A kickoff return to the 48-yard line helped set up Prairie View’s clinching touchdown after the Jaguars had closed within one score with more than four minutes remaining.

“Our execution wasn’t there, which means our focus wasn’t there, which leads to bad special teams,” Odums said. “The times that (special teams) are on the field require the most concentration. So it requires them to be locked in even more because they don’t get a second down. It’s a matter of getting them to understand the value of it.”

Making up for lost time

The Jaguars hope the secondary gets a boost from the return of Jamar Mitchell to the starting lineup as well as the accelerated development of freshman Demerio Houston in Mitchell’s absence.

Mitchell, a sophomore from Mandeville, earned a starting position in preseason camp before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first four games of the season. When Mitchell returned to practice during an open date earlier this month, he was eased back into the lineup.

He got some reps on special teams, played 20 snaps against Alabama State two weeks ago and played 35 last week before being returned to the starting lineup this week.

“It feels good because I worked really hard in the offseason and it really hit me hard when I get injured,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t really know how serious it was, but it feels good to be back. I’ve been working hard rehabbing. I just have to make up for what I missed out on.”

Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.