Ex-Lion Utley knows what lies ahead for Bills' Everett

Mike Utley didn't see the hit until the next day.

Now, he can't stop following the updates on the health of Buffalo reserve tight end Kevin Everett, who suffered a severe spinal injury that could leave him paralyzed while making a tackle against Denver on Sunday.

Utley's concern for Everett is genuine and personal.

It's been nearly 16 years since Utley, a former Detroit Lions guard, was paralyzed after a neck injury in a November 1991 game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Utley was blocking on a pass play when he was hit and crumbled to the ground. As he was carted off the field, Utley gave a "thumbs up" gesture to the crowd.

"You do everything you can to prepare yourself. But this can happen," Utley said Monday from his home in Washington state. "I'm sorry to see this young man got hurt."

While Utley is paralyzed below the chest, he has regained most of the use of his hands and some voluntary movement of muscles in his lower legs and feet.

The 41-year-old Utley proudly claimed he can bench press 300 pounds. He's also 80 pounds lighter than his playing weight of 315 pounds.

"I'm diligent about taking care of myself," Utley said. "It's mandatory that I do this."

Everett's injury occurred when he ducked his head while tackling Denver's Domenik Hixon on the opening kickoff of the second half.

"It was a clean shot," Utley said. "There was nothing wrong and nothing vicious."

After his injury, Utley went to Craig Hospital in Denver, a world-class facility that specializes in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.

He's hoping Everett receives first-class care as well.

"I'm sorry to be crass and blunt, but we have a young man who's a great athlete, and now we have to get him to a place where he'll have the best chance to win," Utley said. "He got to the NFL through hard work. He knows how to work hard. He's going to need that to get better. If there's a will, there's a way. If there's a way, there's a chance to win."

Utley is busy these days promoting his bike tour that takes place Sept. 29 in eastern Washington. The purpose of the ride is to raise funds to help find a cure for paralysis. Utley also has a foundation dedicated to finding a cure.

"My wife gets 100 e-mails a day on spinal cord injuries," Utley said. "We want to help. You can either sit around, feel sorry for yourself and wait for a cure, or do something about it.

"The image I want to project is I'm still an athlete. I'm still very muscular. But I have earned the right to be back this way. I condition, lift weights and eat well."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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