METAIRIE, La. -- Former Tulane safety Devon Walker was paralyzed from the neck down after a collision with a teammate during a 2012 football game against Tulsa. But it never stopped him from becoming the Green Wave's inspirational leader the past two seasons.
And it didn't stop Walker from realizing his dream of signing an NFL contract, either.
The New Orleans Saints surprised Walker by signing him to an official contract Saturday -- just hours before Walker realized another dream by graduating from college.
"To me, this is almost like one of my dreams come true," said Walker, a native of nearby Destrehan, Louisiana. "I've been a Saint since before I was walking. Just to be a part of this team, just to be around the players is more than I could have hoped."
The Saints have developed a close bond with the New Orleans-based Tulane football program in recent years, since former Saints receiver coach Curtis Johnson took over as the Green Wave head coach in 2011.
The team already had adopted Walker as part of its family; it just made it official on Saturday during a break between rookie minicamp practices.
"I'm proud to be up here with him, and I'm super proud of his recovery and the way he's handled this and the way he's approached this," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who raved about the leadership and inspiration Walker continued to provide his team following the injury. "Obviously he's been an inspiration to our region, to our community, New Orleans, the Tulane family, and it's carried over to us on the Saints."
Johnson, who was on hand for the announcement Saturday, said Walker was a big part of Tulane's success last year, when the team made its first bowl appearance in more than a decade.
"I didn't have to do any pregame speeches at home because he did them all," Johnson said. "And he policed the locker room. He policed those guys. He was around all the time.
"This kid deserves it all. He's very inspirational. Man, I love the kid."
In 2013, Walker received the Disney Spirit Award, an honor given annually by Disney Sports to college football's most inspirational figure.
Walker, who is bound to a wheelchair and uses a ventilator to help him breathe, said he thought he was on his way to Saints camp to eat the famous charbroiled oysters from a local restaurant, Drago's, that Johnson always is bragging about.
"I thought I was on my way to eat some oysters," Walker said. "They tricked me."