7:41 PM ET

TAMPA, Fla. — By the time Rhonda D’Haiti got to her 16-year-old son D.J. Myers’ side on July 25, 2017, he’d been strapped to a stretcher, airlifted to the hospital and was moments away from undergoing a 10-hour surgery. Unable to move from the neck down, he looked up at her and said, “If I can’t play football, I’m going to die.”

Fast-forward one year, and Myers, who is now 17, is in a wheelchair and unable to feel anything below his belly button. Football is out of the question, and he has yet to return to his regular classes at South Lake High School in Groveland, Florida. But he’s in good spirits and thriving, thanks in part to some encouragement from Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson, whom Myers met in person for the first time Saturday.

“I can’t do it, I can’t do it,” Myers said, fighting back tears, burying his face in his hands and unable to look up as the three-time Pro Bowler walked toward him. “Oh my God, man. Oh my God.”

It was Jackson’s face he saw on a cellphone video, days after surgery, when he was recovering, and

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