ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Devon Gales, a wide receiver for Southern who suffered a paralyzing neck injury during a September game at Georgia, made an emotional return to Sanford Stadium on Saturday night.
Gales has become a Georgia fan after being embraced by the team and fans following the injury. He had a big smile as he exchanged handshakes and hugs with each Georgia player and coach Mark Richt as the team entered the stadium before the Bulldogs' game against Georgia Southern. Gales wore a Georgia black warmup suit as he sat in a wheelchair.
''It's a family that I never knew about,'' Gales said of Georgia. He said he ''feels blessed'' to have made the return to Athens and especially to have been on the field before the game.
''I miss the field,'' he said.
Gales has become especially close with Georgia football program coordinator Bryant Gantt, and he mentioned Gantt while previewing his return to Sanford Stadium on his Twitter account.
''Today I return to UGA & I wear my adversity as armor not shackles! (hash)Faithful&Fearless Tell them I'm coming Coach (at)bgantt! (hash)LetsGeauxDawgs,'' Gales said.
Gales broke his sixth cervical vertebra when blocking on a kickoff return on Sept. 26.
Ron Courson, Georgia's director of sports medicine, was one of the first to reach Gales' side after the player collided with Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan.
Neurosurgeon Kimberly Walpert, who oversaw the operation at Athens Regional Medical Center to replace the broken vertebra and install hardware as scaffolding to let the neck heal, also was on the field with Gales.
Gales was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta following the surgery for continued treatment and rehabilitation.