JEFFERSON — Jefferson football coach Gene Cathcart has hired a new assistant coach.
Most football fans around the state know of the new coach pretty well. His name: Devon Gales.
Gales, former Southern University wide receiver, was paralyzed in 2015 during a kickoff return against the University of Georgia in Athens. Since that day, the University of Georgia, its fan base and several donors have made it their mission to help Gales get back on his feet. They’ve also helped the Gales family with the construction of a handicap accessible home in Jefferson through fundraising.
As for the coaching position, Cathcart said the idea was Jefferson superintendent Dr. John Jackson's.
“It was brought to our attention upon meeting this wonderful family that Devon missed the game and practices and being part of a football team in the game he still loved so much,” Cathcart said. “Dr. John Jackson had the idea of getting him involved in our program in some way and how our young men would benefit from his living example, character, strength in facing adversity and perseverance.”
The idea stemmed from a speaking engagement last week during PRIDE. Gales was invited to share his story with the Jefferson senior class.
“After our Athletic director Bill Navas gave him a great introduction and the group watched a very moving and poignant and inspirational video about his experience and subsequent brotherhood with former Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan, with whom he had the collision that fateful day,” Cathcart explained. “After the video, Devon inspired our seniors with his words, positivity, energy and example.”
Cathcart said after Gales’ presentation to the class, he proceeded to ask Gales to join the staff.
“We gave Devon some Jefferson athletic gear and spoke with him about this possibility after getting to know him a few minutes,” he said. “A smile spread across his face and he looked up and asked, "Are y'all offering me a job?" We responded that we were and would talk more when the family moved into their home this summer.
“We did not want to ever be a burden to this awesome family but wanted to offer him an opportunity to be a part of the Dragon football family and to know he is welcome to any and all football activities that he could join us.”
Gales' smile will light up an entire room and it did so when Cathcart introduced him as the newest member of the program on Monday.
“It was funny because I’ve never been called coach. It was always Devon, so just to have that behind me and just hearing the kids say, coach Gales, coach Devon or whatever they want to call it. I’m happy with whatever they call it.
His mom, Tish, says Devon has turned his tragedy into a blessing by using his story to inspire others and the new position will not only help motivate him but motivate and inspire the players he will coach.
"I guess I can say it's a huge accomplishment," she said. "One of our goals was to help Devon to become more independent and this is definitely going to do that for him. It's going to allow him time away from us; time around others that would help keep him motivated as well as him motivating others. I just want him to be able to go out and share his story with others and, hopefully, touch somebody else in some type of way as well as them doing the same type of thing in return."