The week off could not have come at a better time.
With a battered quarterback, an injured running back and a severely injured defensive back, Tulane clearly needed some time to reflect, regroup, heal and pray after a 45-10 loss at Tulsa on September 8.
At Tulane's weekly press briefing Tuesday, things started with the appearance of senior cornerback Ryan Travis wearing a tee-shirt in honor of injured teammate Devon Walker of Destrehan. To this point, Tulane has sold 2,000 of them and expects to sell many, many more in support of the young man who suffered a severe spinal/neck injury in the game against Tulsa. The shirts are $20 and are available at www.tulane.edu/devonwalker.
Tulane team physician Dr. Greg Stewart once again had the tough task of trying to explain the latest on Walker without saying much, honoring the Walker family's wishes.
Walker remains in St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa. Walker is participating in therapy and he is expected to be transferred a comprehensive in-patient rehabilitation facility at an undisclosed location.
Stewart said that the family simply wants to focus on Walker getting better. Stewart said that Walker is communicating with everyone, speaking to his family and that athletic director Rick Dickson has visited him.
As for Walker's long-term prognosis, Stewart said that a lot will depend upon the initial evaluation of how the recent surgery went, that goals would be established and then the proper steps could be taken. Again, he would not speculate on Walker's present condition or future. Stewart did say that there is reason for hope. He did say that he has progressed to the point where it is now appropriate to move to an in-patient facility.
Stewart said that after treatment at the in-patient facility is complete that Walker would go home and continue with therapies at that point as well. Stewart added that the appropriate surgeries on Walker have already been done and that he does not anticipate any need for additional surgeries.
Travis says it has been very difficult for all associated with the Tulane football team.
"We're taking it day-by-day," Travis said. "It's kind of hard but it's something that we can overcome. Winning the game would be fantastic for him because I know that's what he wants for us. I have spoken to his (Walker's) mother. We have not spoken to Devon personally but we have spoken to his parents. We've heard that former guys who have had the same injury, they said hearing from teammates is something good in helping to overcome the injury."
Junior wide receiver Wilson Van Hooser says that Walker is foremost in the minds of his teammates.
"We think about him all the time," said Van Hooser. "We feel his presence with us and we would like to honor him with a win this Saturday. We owe it to Devon to perform our best just as we owe it to ourselves and coaches. It's been the main thing our minds. We're really coming together for him. It is a serious situation, a trial for us. I think the team is handling it well."
Tackle Eric Jones said the team is coping as well as possible with the difficult situation of seeing a teammate down, taking on his determined persona.
"I think we're coping really well," said Jones. "It's one of those situations where you come out an play a little harder because he would want us to do that. He always played hard. He was always a go get them kind of guy. He would want us to be the same. We're just continuing to do that. I think football kind of prepares you for situations like this. There's always adversities. Football really teaches you to roll with the punches."
Head coach Curtis Johnson thanked an unusually large media contingent for showing up on media day, expressing appreciation for everyone's concern about Walker.
"The rest of the team, we're doing as well as could be expected," Johnson said.
Asked if there are any plans to honor Walker visibly for the Ole Miss game, Johnson smiled.
"They (the players) have requested about 30,000 things to me," said Johnson. "We're in the process of deciding exactly what we are doing and I just want input from everybody on the football team. I've got my ideas."
Is there a concern that the situation with Walker will cast a long shadow over the remainder of the 2012 season?
"I think we've taken every precautionary measure around the university," Johnson said. "We've had counselors here. We've done everything that we possibly could so that these guys could move in the direction to do what they love to do (play football). They are doing that. They are moving in a better direction. I thought they were very spirited this morning. They are eager to get back to, as normal as they can, playing football."
With heavy hearts and determined minds, they will do so, in search of their first victory in a year, against Ole Miss Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
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