Dec. 12, 2013
New Orleans - Tulane University senior Devon Walker will receive this year's Disney Spirit Award, an honor given annually by Disney Sports to college football's most inspirational figure. Walker has exhibited tremendous courage and perseverance following a severe spinal cord injury last season, and has become a motivational figure for the football team, the university and the New Orleans community.
Faron Kelley, and last year's Disney Spirit Award recipient, University of Texas player Nate Boyer, will present the award during The Home Depot College Football Awards at Walt Disney World Resort tonight. The 23rd annual awards show - hosted by ESPN's Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Samantha Ponder - will once again air on ESPN at 6 p.m. CST and originate from the Atlantic Dance Hall at Disney's BoardWalk at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
"Winning the Disney Spirit Award gives me a renewed sense of purpose to continue on my path toward recovery and, in doing so, provide inspiration to others to never give up,'' said Walker, 22, who is paralyzed from the neck down. "I have a fantastic support system in my family, friends, teammates, coaches, university staff, and others from around the country who constantly encourage me to keep fighting. Returning to campus and my team this fall has allowed me to regain a sense of normalcy and has given me hope for a full and successful life."
Walker, who hails from nearby Destrehan, began his football career with Tulane in 2009 as a walk-on before earning a scholarship and becoming the starting safety and team captain for the 2012 season. In the second game of that season against Tulsa, Walker collided with a teammate while attempting to make a tackle just seconds before halftime. The impact was heard throughout the stadium, as was the silence that followed. Walker injured his C3 and C4 vertebrae, which left him paralyzed from the neck down. He spent several months in the hospital before returning home in December 2012.
"Devon's positive outlook and determination to remain an integral figure within the Tulane football program embodies the true essence of the Disney Spirit Award,'' said Kelley, director of sports marketing for Disney Sports. "We salute his courage, resilience and perseverance, and wish him every success in life.''
In between his schoolwork, Walker continues to attend rehabilitation sessions three days a week and spends ample time with the team, attending meetings, practices and all Tulane home football games. Although he is no longer on the active roster, Walker remains a focal point for the team this season. A sticker with Walker's jersey No. 18 is on every helmet, and no active player wears his No. 18 jersey.
Before each game, a Tulane player, who is specifically chosen for his teamwork and dedication, is designated to run onto the field waving a No. 18 flag before the rest of the players take the field. And Walker gives a pregame speech to the team each week. The Tulane Green Wave is currently 6-4 this year with two games remaining.
The New Orleans and Tulane University communities have rallied around Walker, with many groups donating time and money to help create Devon's Den, an apartment attached to the Walker family home specially designed for him. The apartment is outfitted with the latest technology and medical enhancements that make living at home easier and more accessible for Walker and his family.
"Devon epitomizes what this award was established to recognize," Tulane Director of Athletics Rick Dickson said. "He leads by example in showing all how to inspire and motivate others by demonstrating an uncompromising and unrelenting spirit in facing life's toughest adversities and he does this all with the greatest sense of dignity and grace. Devon has done this for an entire campus, city and nation and no one is more deserving of this prestigious award."
"Devon Walker is a special young man and is really a hero to all of us," Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said. "I don't know if anyone could go through what he has experienced in two or three lifetimes. He is an inspiration to me, my family, our football team and the entire Tulane and New Orleans communities."
Walker becomes the 18th recipient of the award, joining past honorees Daniel Huffman (1996), Dwight Collins (1997), Matt Hartl (1998), East Carolina University (1999), Hameen Ali (2000), the United States Service Academy football teams (2001), Dewayne White (2002), Neil Parry (2003), Tim Frisby (2004), the Tulane University football team (2005), University of Louisville band member Patrick Henry Hughes (2006), Zerbin Singleton (2007), Tim Tebow (2008), Mark Herzlich (2009), D.J. Williams (2010), Carson Tinker and the University of Alabama (2011) and Nate Boyer (2012).