Player severely injured in Georgia game breaks ground on new Hoschton home

This article was written by Ryne Dennis for OnlineAthens.com.  To view the original article, please click here.

HOSCHTON, Ga. — The moment seemed surreal.

After several years of fundraising and promotional efforts to build a house that could suit the needs of Devon Gales, the Southern football player who injured his spine in a collision with Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan in 2015, the family officially broke ground on a new house Friday morning in the Traditions of Braselton subdivision.

The people who made it possible spoke.

Whit Marshall, a former Georgia football player and CEO of Paran Homes which donated the 1-acre lot of land, and Mike Elrod, owner of Currahee Homes and one of the forces behind the project, explained the vision of providing the Gales family a home.

Jim Butterworth, a University of Georgia alum and a major player in fundraising for Gales, spoke about love and timing while opening the ceremony with prayer.

Georgia’s director of Player Programs, Bryant Gantt, who became like family to the Gales following the injury, praised the UGA medical staff and the works of trainer Ron Courson and the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation center in Atlanta.

But after about 45 minutes, when Gantt handed the microphone over to Gales, the moment suddenly seemed real.

Photo: Joshua L. Jones, Athens Banner-Herald

“God put us here for a reason,” Gales said. “He knew I was able to conquer and overcome what I’m going through. With this house, I know that I will have a lot more freedom than what I have now.”

Gales, mother Tish, brother Dalen and sister Teah have lived in Lawrenceville the past couple years while Devon received treatment at the Shepherd Center.

Devon’s father, Donnie, has remained in Baton Rouge, La., to continue working for UPS, only visiting the family every couple of weeks.

Living in a house with carpeted floors and bathroom doors not wide enough for Devon’s wheelchair to fit through, the new house will have amenities that will allow Gales to get around easier and also feature an elevator that will allow him to go from floor to floor.

“I’ll be able to move around like I want,” Gales said. “In the house now is nothing but carpet, and it’s not too good when you don’t have that much muscle. But with this house I’ll be able to (move around) … everybody will have their own little section in the house. I’m grateful just to have a place that I can call home.”

At a press conference a little more than two years ago, the Gales were told by the Triumph over Tragedy Foundation that they would get a house that suited Devon’s needs, but funding never materialized and the project was scrapped.

Morgan’s mother, Dana, held a fundraiser prior to this year’s G-Day game to raise money and bring the Gales’ needs back into the spotlight.

Holding five shovels that featured a letter of Devon’s name on each, the family dug into the lot that will soon be their front yard.

Elrod believes tractors will be on the foundation within 30 days and the Gales will be in their new house by summer 2019.

The house will be around an hour from the Shepherd Center and 30 minutes from Athens, where the Gales and the Bulldog faithful have adopted each other.

Tish is hopeful that Devon can one day enroll in classes at UGA.

Around $250,000 has been raised through donations, either directly to the Gales or through the website buildfordevon.com.

Funds are still needed for certain aspects of the house, but due to material donations, groundbreaking could begin Friday.

John Parker, a 1973 graduate of the University of Georgia and contributor to UGA athletics, said that Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and wife Mary Beth plan to make a contribution to the Gales’ effort through their family foundation.

“Momentum in football is everything,” Parker said. “This organization has momentum, it certainly does, and it’s a wonderful thing. And (Smart) said the foundation will absolutely make a material donation to the Devon Gales Build a Home Foundation.”

Members of the media, sponsors, builders and family totaled about 70 people at Friday’s groundbreaking.

A couple of the Gales’ future neighbors welcomed Devon to the neighborhood, including Jimmy Herrin, who pulled up in a Georgia Tech golf cart, and Clemson-shirt wearing Johnny Tucker, who snapped a photo with Devon.

Devon, wearing a Georgia Bulldogs T-shirt and Georgia sweatpants, spent time conversing with both, joking with them about their college allegiances, but thanking them for their warm welcome.

After several days of rain across northeast Georgia, the clouds parted and sun beamed down throughout the near hour-long ceremony.

“They say that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Gantt said. “It was raining but now the sun is shining. That sun means something to us. It’s the light at the end of this tunnel.”