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Paralyzed football star, 16, determined to walk again A month after SUV crash, Morris back home to heal from 'incomplete injury'

DeShanaro D. Morris returned home this week, a month after he was paralyzed in a one-vehicle crash in Amherst.

The Sweet Home High School football star was a passenger in a sport utility vehicle that spun out of control on snow-slicked North Forest Road, slammed head-on into a utility pole and slid into a ditch.

That was the last time he was able to move his legs, but there is hope he will again walk because doctors, he said, have told him that the battering to his spine was an "incomplete injury." They base the diagnosis on the fact that he has feeling in his legs.

"If I had a complete injury, I wouldn't be able to recover and walk again, and I am going to walk again," the determined 16-year-old said Thursday, a day after his release from Erie County Medical Center. "The doctors say seven months, eight months, a year. It depends on when my nerves heal."

DeShanaro says the injury is only a temporary setback, though he acknowledges he will probably never again play football.

And, what a football player he was.

Last season, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound running back rushed for a record-breaking 1,503 yards and scored 25 touchdowns, helping to lead Sweet Home to a 13-0 record and its first state football championship, in Class A. On defense, he was a bruising All-Western New York linebacker, with 127 tackles.

Now in a wheelchair, DeShanaro said he sees life from a different angle. Instead of mere passing thoughts for others struggling with physical disabilities, he says, he feels a deeper sense of compassion.

"A few months ago, I'd look at people in wheelchairs and say that's messed up that they wound up in wheelchairs," DeShanaro said. "Now, I feel bad for them. They can do stuff like regular people, but there is a limit."

He says he can't get used to the fact that his legs have stopped working.

At the hospital, he said, he would wheel himself out of his room and go to an area with couches beside a window on the eighth floor and gaze outside for hours.

"I'd ask my mom to get me some pillows so I could sit on the couch, and then I'd lift myself out of the wheelchair," he said, grateful for the assistance from his mother, Andrea Morris.

He said his thoughts often rambled from wondering how someone in a wheelchair would never know the thrill of riding a roller coaster at an amusement park to why this accident happened to him.

"I thought, 'Why me?' Out of the four people in the car, I had the worst injury," DeShanaro said.

The accident occurred on North Forest, near Main Street, as he and his friends were heading home in a snowstorm from a teen night at a Clarence nightclub.

DeShanaro said he was on his cell phone in the back seat talking with his girlfriend when the SUV began swerving.

"The car fishtailed a little," he said. "I blinked once, and all I knew was it was spinning. My friends were yelling, but I was shocked. I thought to myself, 'Please, don't let it hit anything major.'

"I saw a mailbox, then a telephone pole came out of nowhere, I said, 'Please, just nick the car,' but we hit it front-on, right in the middle. When we hit, my head went up and hit the roof, then my chest hit the back of the driver's seat. All the impact was on my back."

The impact, he said, caused damage to vertebrae in the middle and top of his spine. Surgeons implanted a steel rod to help stabilize his spine, and he now wears a neck brace.

Despite the setback, DeShanaro says, he is grateful the injuries were not worse.

"God was willing to bless me," he said, adding that he is eager to begin physical therapy on an outpatient basis at ECMC.

Both his father, Eric Morris, and Sweet Home varsity football coach John Faller say his enthusiasm is not unexpected.

"There ain't no quit in him," said Morris, who added proudly that his son took three Regents exams last week -- in science, math and global studies -- and passed them.

Faller said that while DeShanaro was in the hospital, he lifted weights and did other exercises to maintain his upper-body strength.

"That's why he's been released from the hospital. He's working hard every day. He does a lot of upper-body exercises. He's a strong kid," said Faller, who is organizing a fundraiser to assist with paying expenses DeShanaro and his family will face during the long journey of rehabilitation.

The benefit is set for 2 to 6 p.m. March 29 in Classics V restaurant, 2425 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst. More details about the event are expected to be released next week.

DeShanaro said he has every intention of attending the event, and plans to return to school before it lets out in June.

But for now, it's just good to be home. When his mother asked him Wednesday evening what he wanted for his first home-cooked meal in more than a month, he said she would have made him anything, but he picked tacos.

Two friends also showed up and they played video games. One of them involved DeShanaro's favorite sport -- football.

"I won a couple of times," he said.

But the high school junior said he has now set his heart on a much bigger win -- walking.