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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."
He enrolled at Miami for the spring semester in 2003 and played two seasons at tight end on a Hurricanes team that was ludicrously deep—Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Frank Gore, Jonathan Vilma, Devin Hester—and typically bombastic. "I met some flamboyant, cocky guys," says Everett, laughing at the memory. He took mental notes on talking smack and backed down from no one. "When he brought passion to practice, people did not mess with Kevin," says Rob Chudzinski, who recruited Everett and subsequently coached him as a Miami assistant before moving to the Cleveland Browns in 2004. "Over time he became one of the toughest kids we had at Miami."
Everett was selected by the Bills in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft. He missed his rookie year with a torn left ACL but in 2006 contributed on special teams before working his way into the tight end rotation this year. "You know what?" says Everett now. "They even put in a tight end screen." His career stretched out in front of him, a dream made real.
JUST PAST 2:30 P.M. on the second Sunday in September, Bills kicker Rian Lindell teed up the football at his 30-yard line and paced back, ready to commence the second half of the season opener. The first player to Lindell's right was Everett—position R5 in special teams nomenclature. He wore number 85 on his blue jersey, and in the first half, as the starting tight end, he'd caught the second pass of his NFL career, a three-yard completion from J.P. Losman. The Bills led 7--6 as Lindell's kick floated to the goal line, outside the hash marks, where it was gathered in by the Broncos' Domenik Hixon.
In kick coverage Everett was a wedge buster, a player who lines up in the middle of the field, sprints more than 50 yards and propels himself into the cluster of blockers gathered tightly in front of the return man. Wedge-busting is ferocious, demanding work; Everett was good at it. On this kick, however, he wasn't blocked at any point on the field. Just outside the Denver 20-yard line, he slipped to the right of the wedge. "They just didn't block me," says Everett. "I don't know why. I remember right before the hit, I looked over and saw [teammate] Sam Aiken. He's a wide receiver, and I beat him down [the field]. I was thinking, Man, Sam's late."
As Hixon started upfield, he angled toward the middle. Just past the 15-yard line he planted his right foot and prepared to cut outside, to his left. As he made the move, Everett arrived, shoulders squared, his body in an athletic crouch. Just before impact, Everett bent his upper body forward; Hixon dropped his upper body. The players collided violently, the crown of Everett's helmet meeting the side of Hixon's. "I've seen the play so many times, and it was the timing of it," says Everett. "I did the same thing I would do every time running down on kickoff team, got low to put my pads under his, and this one time he lowered his helmet."
Hixon was driven sideways by the blow, staggering to his right, where Aiken finished the tackle. Everett never saw that. "My body went numb instantly," he says. "I thought he kept going because it felt like he ran smack over me."
Everett's body went limp, and he crashed to the artificial turf, flat on his stomach, his head turned to the right. He was motionless except for a momentary twitch of his head and neck as he tried to lift his paralyzed body off the ground with the only muscles in his body still firing.