Tulane returns to practice

Updated: September 11, 2012, 5:49 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Tulane returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since defensive back Devon Walker suffered a severe injury to his spinal cord.

Walker fractured his spine trying to make a tackle during Saturday's game at Tulsa. The senior remains hospitalized, and doctors have said it is too early to know what the long-term effects of his injury will be, though paralysis is always a concern with spinal injuries.

Without a doubt, I know Devon is going to continue to fight on because he's a competitor. He has a lot of courage and willpower to overcome adversity.

-- Tulane cornerback Ryan Travis on Devon Walker

The Green Wave, who have a bye this week, worked out for about two hours in what coach Curtis Johnson called a "spirited practice."

"We always are going to have (Walker); he's one of us," Johnson told reporters. "I think the best thing to do is keep moving. He would want us to keep moving and keep him in our prayers. But he would want us to play hard and win our next games."

The next game is not until Sept. 22 in the Superdome against Mississippi. Players said the bye week "came at a good time" as they try to grapple with their popular teammate's misfortune.

While doctors have said Walker never lost consciousness, could breathe on his own and speak, his teammates have not yet been able to talk to him. Walker, who underwent a three-hour surgery Sunday to stabilize his spine, has received an outpouring of support both locally and nationally. His teammates say Walker has been in their thoughts constantly.

The mother of paralyzed Rutgers player Eric LeGrand told The Associated Press that she and her son will reach out to Walker and his family.

LeGrand injured his spine in 2010 and was paralyzed below the shoulders. Now he is able to do physical therapy five days a week, with the hope of walking again.

Meanwhile, Walker's closest teammates have cited his drive to play his first two seasons without a scholarship, all while pursuing a difficult degree, as reasons they believe he has the courage to cope with the injury.

Walker is due to graduate with a degree in cell and molecular biology in May.

"Without a doubt, I know Devon is going to continue to fight on because he's a competitor," said Tulane senior cornerback Ryan Travis, who shares an apartment with Walker and has been his friend since they were freshmen. "He has a lot of courage and will power to overcome adversity."

Travis recalled getting to the visitor's locker room moments after seeing Walker being treated on the field, dropping down to his knees and praying. He's been praying ever since.

"I asked God why this happened. I know if it was allowed to happen, there was a reason," Travis said. "I was asking God to protect him and watch over him.

"On the plane going to Tulsa, he had sat right across from me," Travis continued. "And on the plane ride back, it was kind of tough looking over, seeing him not there, knowing what happened, knowing he's my roommate."

Walker played his first two years without a scholarship while pursuing a degree in cell and molecular biology. He played part of last season with a cast on a broken left arm. And friends say he'll attack this challenge with the same tenacity.

Teammates were thrilled when he finally received a scholarship -- worth about $58,000 a year at Tulane -- for his junior season.

"He was paying for everything, and for him to get up every day and work out like he was on scholarship says a lot about his character," said cornerback Kendrick Washington, who has been a suitemate of Walker for three years. "I know I probably couldn't do it. I'd be like, `Forget it. I'm going to be a regular student if I'm paying for my school anyway.' But he stuck around and he finally got a scholarship because he worked hard and he deserved it. ... You couldn't keep him off the field."

Tulane players are in the process of recording get-well messages for a video that will be delivered to Walker soon. In the atrium of Tulane's Wilson Athletic Center, a table is filled with card-making materials of wide-ranging colors and designs, along with scissors and markers, which members of the Tulane community have been using to fashion get-well messages being collected by the athletic department.

The university's official athletic website, tulanegreenwave.com, now includes a link to web page dedicated to helping Walker and his family.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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