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Devon Walker's Return To Tulsa Gives Football Proper Perspective

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When Tulane visits Tulsa on Thursday night, the season-opening football game will take a backseat to something a little more important.

Two seasons ago, in Tulane's most-recent visit to Chapman Stadium, we witnessed one of the worst injuries in college football history. Green Wave safety Devon Walker suffered a cervical spine fracture on the field on the final play of the first half, sending both teams into a state of shock.

Halftime was extended as emergency responders tended to Walker, who remained motionless on the field for what felt like hours. Following a stadium-wide halftime prayer, the Tulane players returned to the field to a standing ovation from the Hurricane crowd.

Walker was transported to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa and the following day he underwent a three-hour surgery where neurosurgeons stabilized his spine. He injured his C3 and C4 vertebrae, which left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Ten days later, Walker was moved to a comprehensive in-patient rehabilitation center in Atlanta, Ga., to continue his recovery. He spent several months in the hospital before returning home in December 2012

“The worst part about it was seeing him lying there helpless, Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “You see the crew working on him and they did the very best job you can do to revive him. I remember the blood pressure machines coming on and them moving him. I remember Coach (Bill) Blankenship coming over and giving me a hug and saying that they were praying for him. I just wanted Devon to feel secure and that's what the training staff did.”

Walker will return to the site of his life-altering event and thank the athletics trainers from both Tulane and the University of Tulsa, the EMT's who responded to his injury and the staff at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa who treated Walker for 10 days.

A “thank you” video from Walker will air at halftime and he and his mother, Inez, will join individuals who answered the call that day on the field for a halftime recognition.

“We would like to thank the people at Tulsa because they really saved his life,” Johnson said. “Just for him to go back there to thank them, to be around them again and the site of the injury, is just too courageous for me.”

Walker re-enrolled in classes to complete his bachelor's degree in cell and molecular biology and participated in graduation ceremonies at the Superdome with his friends and teammates.

“Devon is quite the unique young man when it comes to this program,” Johnson said. “I would like to give him the opportunity for him to do as much as he can around here. Just for his mindset and being him, he's given us so much. I wanted to give him the chance to go to Tulsa and thank those people that saved his life.”

There's no doubt that the game is important. It will be both programs' inaugural contest as members of the American Athletic Conference. It's a big opportunity to seize a win against another bowl-hopeful team.

But more than anything, Thursday night is a day to celebrate a special young man and give a football game a little perspective. The 2012 meeting was a blowout – 35-3 at halftime and a 45-10 final. But those results took a backseat to Walker, as will Thursday's meeting.

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