Paralyzed Southern University football player Devon Gales leaves Atlanta hospital

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Devon Gales couldn't stop smiling through his graduation ceremony from Shepherd Center.

"I feel great, I finally get to go home," Gales says "For 5 months? It's been a long time."

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The 22-year old Southern University junior hasn't been back to Baton Rouge since his devastating accident in late September, focusing everything he has on his recovery.

"I'm just grateful for all the people who have been here," Gales says. "It's been a real blessing."

"It's been a long journey," says Devon's mother Tanisha Gales. "And, I'm just getting to the point where it's kind of wearing on me now."

It was a moment many college football fans can't forget. Gales, a wide receiver, was hit during a kickoff return in a game between Southern and the University of Georgia in Athens.

He never got up, suffering a paralyzing neck injury. After emergency surgery, he was transferred to Shepherd Center in Atlanta to begin the long road back.

Tanisha Gales says so much has changed in the last 5 months, as she's watched her son push through his rehabilitation.

"When we first got here, (he's gone from) not being able to move anything, to, as you see him now, pushing himself," she says, "Getting in and out of bed, brushing his teeth. Feeding himself. Just the plain, every day basic living skills he's able to do now. He's come a very long way."

And Devon Gales says, in a strange way, the accident feels like a blessing.

"I think it made me better as a person," he says. "By me getting closer to the Lord. (By) me getting closer to family and friends. And just helping other people."

"Not everybody can have that spark in their eye, that smile every day," says his mother.

Tanisha Gales says Devon recently asked his parents why people think of him as inspiration. The answer, his parents told him, is his attitude. He's an example to all of us, she says.

"If this person who is 22 years old, not able to walk, and doesn't know what the future holds for him, if he's able to smile every day?" she says, "Then why shouldn't I? Why should I frown, why should I not be happy?"

Devon Gales' dream is to one day walk again, even if he needs a cane. And he says, he's still seeing small signs of hope.

"I'm getting a lot more feeling in my fingers and a lot more movement," he says. "And I can move my legs a lot more."

The Gales are grateful for Shepherd Center -- and for the UGA fans who've rallied around them. And Devon says don't worry -- he'll be back soon.

"Go Dawgs" he says, smiling.

He plans to return to Shepherd Center in March or April to resume his outpatient therapy. Until then, he's looking forward to spending time with his younger brother and sister and his Southern University teammates.