Former Kilgore College football coach Jimmy Rieves was shocked Sunday when a previous staff assistant called to tell him their former star tight end, Kevin Everett, had been seriously injured making a tackle in Buffalo's opener against Denver.
But when Rieves finally got to see the play Monday morning on ESPN, the shock of the news gave way to a sickening memory.
"I was at the University of Mississippi in 1989 as a graduate assistant when Chucky Mullins was injured," Rieves said Monday. "It just brought back the same images to my mind, because the way they fell was basically the spitting image of each other."
Mullins, an Ole Miss defensive back, broke up a pass on Oct. 28, 1989, with a hard hit against Vanderbilt running back Brad Gaines, who outweighed Mullins by 55 pounds. The violent collision shattered four vertebrae in Mullins' neck, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
Mullins returned to school 15 months later, but recurring respiratory complications from the injury took their toll. He collapsed May 1, 1991, from a blood clot in his lungs and died five days later. He was 21.
Everett, a 25-year-old reserve tight end for the Bills, apparently suffered a similarly catastrophic injury Sunday when he tackled the Broncos' Domenik Hixon with a helmet-to-helmet hit on the kickoff starting the second half of Buffalo's 15-14 loss. The doctor treating Everett said Monday that his chance of regaining the use of his limbs was "dismal." But Dr. Andrew Cappuccino told Buffalo TV station WIVB on Tuesday that Everett has voluntary movement of his arms and legs and as a result he is optimistic that he will walk again.
Everett's injury stunned teammates, friends and fans across the nation, from his southern Texas home of Port Arthur to the tiny eastern Texas campus of Kilgore College to the University of Miami, where the Bills found Everett with their third-round pick of the 2005 draft.
"It's just a great tragedy," said Leah Gorman, coordinator of student activities at Kilgore College, where Everett played from 2001 to '03. "We're just really sad here today when we all gathered together to talk about it. … We were very excited when he went on to Miami and when he got drafted. He's just a good person. I can't say that enough."
Everett missed his 2005 rookie NFL season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during his first day of minicamp. He worked hard to come back from that injury, appeared in 16 games as a special-teams specialist in 2006, and was poised to make a bigger impact as a receiver for the Bills this season.
"Our thoughts are with Kevin and his family as we move forward," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "And we will move forward, because it's what we do. And Kevin certainly understands that. And it's what Kevin chooses to do, too."
North Carolina coach Butch Davis, who recruited Everett to Miami for the player's junior and senior seasons, said: "It's sad. He was really just a terrific young man. He's a kid who's fought really, really hard to get back to where he was, because he suffered a really severe knee injury.
"Buffalo, like they did in the case of [running back] Willis McGahee, took a real chance on a kid who was a gifted athlete, a good kid that had to rebound from a knee surgery. Willis, obviously, came back and had a great career after his knee surgery. And I think Kevin would have probably done the same thing."
After an all-state career for Port Arthur's now-defunct Thomas Jefferson High School (which also spawned singer Janis Joplin and football coach Jimmy Johnson), Everett was recruited to Miami by Davis but failed to qualify academically. So he put in two years at Kilgore, where he became a two-time All-Southwest Junior College first-team selection and made the grades necessary to transfer to Miami as a junior.
"He was a good person, very quiet, and very serious about his education," said Rieves, who resigned as coach after last season to become a Kilgore administrator. "He wanted to hurry and get to Miami, and he took care of business off the field. He didn't party, didn't do any of those kinds of things, and never got in trouble, which is unusual at a junior college. He was very serious.
"It's really weird -- as good a football player as he was, I don't have a lot more stories about him. But that just shows the kind of character he had. He didn't bring attention to himself. When he scored touchdowns, he didn't spike the ball or run around. He'd hand the ball to the referee and turn around and jog back to the sidelines. He was just very unassuming."
Jude DuBois, the Kilgore learning specialist who worked closely with Everett on his academic requirements, remembers Everett as a "very focused, very driven young man" determined to achieve his goals of playing for the Hurricanes and eventually in the NFL.
"I think, deep down, he achieved what he wanted to achieve, and that was playing professional football," DuBois said. "He wasn't a man of many words, but he was always very polite and just an all-around great young man. He always seemed to be in top form. I know there are injuries that come with football, but when it's someone that you know personally and have worked with, that's when it's a shocker."
Everett's injury is the second recent NFL-related blow to the Kilgore community. DuBois also worked at Kilgore helping tutor Thomas Herrion, the offensive lineman who went on to the University of Utah and the San Francisco 49ers. Herrion died at age 23 of heart failure following a 2005 exhibition game.
Davis, who finally got to have Everett backing up Kellen Winslow Jr. in the 2003 and '04 seasons, said Everett's star potential was obvious as a high school standout with size (6-4, 240 pounds) and speed.
"He was a really terrific athlete in high school," Davis said. "He was a 4.6 guy [in the 40-yard dash] that you knew was probably going to be kind of a quasi-Jeremy Shockey or Bubba Franks type of guy. He's had kind of an injury-plagued career, but prayers certainly go out to him and his family."
Rieves recalled a play during Everett's sophomore season at Kilgore that best illustrated the player's determination.
"We were playing Navarro Junior College in Corsicana," Rieves said, "and he caught a pass on the 15-yard line and broke about five tackles and dragged three guys into the end zone with him to score a touchdown and help us win the game. He wasn't a rah-rah type of guy. He just basically took care of his business and was a good role model because he never got in trouble.
"He took it as a job and he performed that way. Anytime you have a young man that has his head screwed on straight and doesn't cause you any problems, he's a coach's dream."
Those who knew Everett in his college years credited his mother, Patricia Dugas, with having raised a polite, responsible young man in her single-parent home.
In a 2003 interview with a Miami Hurricanes fan Web site (www.canestime.com), Everett described himself as "just a low-key guy."
"I've been like that my whole life," he said. "My mom always taught me to be like that. She told me if I am going to do stuff, then just do it by yourself. You can't get into any trouble like that."
That singular view toward success, Rieves said, almost certainly would have paid dividends for the Bills this year, with Everett finally healthy heading into the season.
"I think the best was still to come," Rieves said. "Kevin would grow into a place and grow into a position and a scheme. And I believe he was just about to start hitting his stride when this happened."
Ken Daley is a North Texas-based contributor to ESPN.com.