Through an unexpected path, Devon Gales has found himself connecting with high school football players at Jefferson High School to help mold them into not only great football players, but also well-rounded men.
Gales, a former Southern University football player, was paralyzed in 2015 during a game against the University of Georgia. This game altered Gales’ life, and he would spend the next few years enduring multiple surgeries, hours of physical therapy, and having to completely restructure his life.
Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the athlete has found his new home in Jackson County, not too far from Athens. The University of Georgia community has rallied around Gales and has helped build him a custom home for suitable care this summer. This set into motion the next step in Gales’ football career—coaching.
Gales stepped into a new role this season as an assistant football coach at Jefferson High School. He coaches part-time and works with the wide receivers and special teams. His role is designed to motivate, excite and offer emotional support for the team.
Basically keeping everybody focused and motivated and staying on task with the goal to accomplish and keep them focused. That’s the main goal,” said Gales.
Head coach Gene Cathcart said this new addition to the coaching staff is a crucial part to the team’s success. Gales helps the team to have a new edge against other competitors, by helping them become “tender warriors.”
“It’s hardened our team in some ways in terms of their resolve and their will and it’s also softened their hearts. I think for young men, that’s kind of what you want—tender warriors. You want some guys that would go out and play like their hair is on fire on Friday night. Show great mental and physical toughness, but I’ll also have a great empathy for people,” said Cathcart.
Specifically, one of Gales’ strengths is to notice players who might be discouraged and who are not having a great day. This is where he steps in, helps them pivot, and hit the ground running again.
“Discouragement is a big part of football because you know with a 100-plus players out here and eight or nine coaches, we don’t notice every day when somebody is down or somebody’s frustrated. He’s got a great eye for that and encouraging those young men,” said Cathcart.
The players also offer sentiments that the new coach helps them see the world from a different perspective.
“He’s always out here supporting us, asking us how’s our day going, talking to us about things and just keeping us motivated and excited for what’s to come. He is a great coach … and role model,” said player Grant Tacto.
Gales said this part of his story is much larger than himself. This new role is a way for him to keep going in the game of life and to build a legacy. He sees this job as a gift from God and is thankful for the continued support from his family to help him with this new position. Gales, although very independent, still needs assistance getting around, and that is where his family and the team comes into the picture for extra support.
“He thanks us a lot, but we are the ones that are taking way more than we have given,” said Cathcart.
The Dragons are 7-1 this season after clinching a regional championship last week over the Monroe Area Purple Hurricanes. The team is on a trajectory to make it into the playoffs. Gales said it is his goal to see his team make it all the way and go out with a bang this season receiving high school championship rings. As much as Gales wants to leave a legacy for himself, he is also invested in helping each player on the team create their own legacy and impact.
Skylar Nicholson is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and in political science in the School of Public and International Affairs.
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