The Road Back (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday December 11, 2007 8:38AM; Updated: Tuesday December 11, 2007 4:08PM
It is a beautiful thing, to see Everett move, a towering victory hidden in workaday acts. "I'm so proud, I want to bust out and cry every time I look at him," says his mother. "All you heard was people saying 'catastrophic injury' and 'never walk again,' and now just you look at him."
On the first weekend of the 2007 NFL season, Everett fell limply to the Ralph Wilson Stadium turf after making a tackle on the second-half kickoff. He did not get up. The stadium fell silent, an ambulance drove onto the field, and players from both teams formed a prayer circle, the nightmare tableau that can unfold in any football game but is thankfully rare. Everett, a third-year player, had suffered a fracture dislocation in his neck and severe spinal cord damage. He would be the subject of grim prognoses (many victims of his injury, indeed, do not walk again) but also exhaustive and controversial medical care, including the groundbreaking use of a hypothermia treatment that has both encouraged and divided the medical community.
Three months after his injury Everett is in the midst of a heartwarming recovery. He walks unaided at a slow, steady clip for the distance of about half a football field. (A speedier pace or a longer walk can push him off balance, though that should be alleviated as his core muscles strengthen.) He can raise his arms above his head with effort and is gradually recovering the fine motor skills in his hands and fingertips. He has lost roughly 35 pounds from his playing weight of 260, but he looks vibrant if, at 6' 4'', slender. His other bodily functions are fully intact. Five days a week, four hours a day, he has physical therapy at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research at Memorial Hermann Medical Center in Houston, calling on a lifetime of athletic training to push himself.
"I've just tried to stay positive," he says. "The doctors say sometimes it takes a long time to come back, if you ever come back. So I kept plugging away, working hard. And every day there is a little bit more, something that starts coming back. There haven't been any what I would call milestones. Just gradual."
If he has despaired, he does not admit it. Instead, he describes only a transforming strength that has come with his injury. "I look at my life in a whole new fashion," says Everett. "You realize how blessed you are. You thank God even more when you wake up in the morning and for every little thing you have. I thank God for sparing my life and letting me be here for my family and my fiancée. I've been able to see how much people love me, and how much I love them."
He was a football player. More than a football player, in truth, a by-god force of nature. Growing up in Port Arthur, he far exceeded the weight limits imposed in youth leagues, so he bided his time until joining organized ball in junior high. He made the Thomas Jefferson High varsity as a sophomore, and in his senior year the team went 7-4 and reached the state playoffs. He played defensive end and tight end, and in one memorable midseason game in 2000 against powerhouse Ozen High from nearby Beaumont, Everett scored a long touchdown on a tight end screen pass. "I think he ran through their whole team before he got to the end zone," says Al Celaya, Everett's coach at Jefferson that year.
Everett was recruited by Miami, but one bad high school grade made him ineligible to play for the Hurricanes, so he went instead to Kilgore (Texas) College and picked up his associate's degree in a year and a half while playing two seasons of junior college football. "He came to Kilgore and went to class and took care of business," says Jimmy Rieves, who was Kilgore's coach. "A lot of talented players come to junior college and get in trouble. Not Kevin. There was no foolishness about him whatsoever."