Welcome back: Southern invites the Baton Rouge community to support Devon Gales as he comes home Saturday _lowres

Devon Gales is all smiles during a press conference at Athens Regional Medical Center on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Athens, Ga. Devon Gales suffered a paralyzing neck injury during a September football game at Georgia. (AP Photo//Athens Banner-Herald)

I don’t know Devon Gales personally, but I will probably shed a tear when I see him later today. And, my tears won’t be the only ones to fall.

Gales is a Southern University football player who suffered a severe spinal injury during a football game against the University of Georgia in Athens in September.

He will be honored at Southern about 4 p.m., or shortly after Southern’s women’s basketball game at the F. G. Clark Activity Center. It will be Gales’ first time back on the campus since his injury.

I was sitting in the University of Georgia stadium with my wife, son, daughter-in-law and thousands of Southern and Georgia fans when Gales did not get up after he was blocking on a kick-off. From my seat, you could see the concern on the Georgia sideline, as Gales lay motionless for what seemed like a long time.

It was clear that there was a greater sense of purpose than usual as the medical teams worked on him. Players on both sides of the field kneeled.

You sat and looked at his feet, legs, arms and hands. Please, Lord, let something move. Anything — and then nothing.

And as they took him off the field, strapped to a board, we all knew this was serious. People applauded, but for the most part, many of those hands were silent prayers.

When word came the next day that Gales had suffered a “catastrophic” injury, I felt horribly for the young man, his family and friends. You hold out hope for two things — that the diagnosis was incorrect, and for a miracle.

Since then, Gales has received love from the entire Southern community, his alma mater Central High, other Southwestern Athletic Conference schools and thousands of people from Baton Rouge and across the country.

I joined others for updates on his recovery from the news media and on social media. I was hopeful when I would see him smiling and upbeat as he made progress. (I didn’t want to think about what his bad days looked like.)

“With faith and confidence, I push myself every day — (I) just know that something great will come out of this experience,” he told a reporter. You have to believe in this young man.

The recent announcement by the Triumph Over Tragedy Foundation’s campaign to build Gales a new home designed to accommodate his needs was an awesome tribute to the love he appears to evoke from whomever he meets.

And, there is something else. I have huge respect for the University of Georgia and its former head football coach, Mark Richt. They have been class personified during Gales’ recovery.

The school even coordinated and covered the expense of flying Gales’ parents to the hospital right after the game. Georgia football players, medical and support staff and other groups have been at the hospital with him, taken him on the Georgia campus and honored him in a number of ways.

Richt came to the hospital a number of times. I never got the feeling that his visits were for the standard “Hey, look, I care” photo-op. He seemed genuinely prayerful and hopeful for Gales.

Being a graduate and supporter of Southern, I follow the university and the SWAC conference a lot. But I am now also a solid fan of the University of Georgia. Go Dawgs!

And, as for Richt, the new head coach at the University of Miami (“The U”), I am now a Hurricane fan, but more importantly, a big Richt fan.

When I see Gales today, I will stand, applaud and I will cry. He will probably wave to the crowd, and he may speak to the thousands that should be there. And, no doubt, his words will be positive and uplifting.

Some day, in the not-too-distant future, I pray that I am at the place when he stands up and takes a step — just one step.

“I know I’m going to walk. ... I know I will have a testimony that I will have to speak on,” he told a reporter last week.

I believe him.

Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, can be reached at epratt1972@yahoo.com.