Devon Walker, the Tulane safety who was paralyzed in a game in 2012, graduated from Tulane on Saturday and signed a contract with the New Orleans Saints.
Walker was paralyzed when he fractured his spine in a collision on Sept. 8, 2012 against Tulsa. Since then, Tulane has worn No. 18 stickers on the back of its helmets in honor of Walker, who attended team meetings, practices and home games last season.
“When Devon got hurt, his football career was just starting to take off after three years of hard work,” Saints coach Sean Payton said in a team statement. “Despite the devastating injury he suffered, Devon refuses to let that define him. He is an outstanding young man, who is not only an inspiration to his coaches and teammates at Tulane, but to all of us. Devon’s character, determination, intelligence and work ethic are everything that we look for in a New Orleans Saint when we sign a player. This is the least we can do to recognize Devon and these attributes that we want all of our players to have.”
Walker has undergone an aggressive rehab process after sustaining the injury and continued to take classes at Tulane when he was able. He got his degree Saturday in cell and molecular biology.
He arrived at Tulane as a walk-on in 2009, but moved his way up the depth chart through his career and was named a team captain before the beginning of the 2012 season. He was named the winner of Disney's Spirit Award in 2013.
Walker said he sometimes has movement below his shoulders and said he's recently gained feeling in his entire body.
"Not much has changed in the last few months – other than feeling, I have feeling all over my body," Walker told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "It's not complete feeling but it's something that's hard to describe. It's sensitivity to hot and cold."
"Yeah, it's positive. It's not a race, it's a marathon. As far as movement-wise, I have movement periodically in different parts of my body all the way down to my toes. Sometimes it moves, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it's just that it's not strong enough to move against gravity. That's one of the hardest things – trying so hard and not actually seeing anything coming back to you."
Much like former Rutgers DT Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed in a game in 2010, Walker is set on walking again. He is also debating graduate school.
"Words cannot adequately express how much this degree means to me," Walker wrote in an email to CBS Sports. "It is one of my highest achievements.
"However, I am still on a quest to seek out and overcome my greatest adversity."
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