TANNER — Malik Atkins and Ashton Hines say they don’t remember everything that happened on the night of July 4, 2018.
They will be reminded about that night for the rest of their lives when they look at their hands and arms, which are covered with skin grafts.
Atkins and Hines, who are seniors on the Tanner football team, were in a vehicle with former teammates CJ Yarbrough and Zakobe Shoulders that night.
There were also fireworks in the car.
“I remember a flash of fire,” Atkins said. “The next thing I know, I’m waking up in the hospital with doctors and nurses standing over me.”
He doesn’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital in Athens or the helicopter ride to UAB Hospital in Birmingham.
Nobody is exactly sure what happened. What is known is Hines was driving. Yarbrough was in the front passenger seat. Atkins was seated behind Hines. Shoulders was in the seat behind Yarbrough.
The burning vehicle went through a yard and hit two other vehicles on Stanford Street in Athens. Luckily, everybody was able to get out before the vehicle was totally engulfed.
The 6-foot-6, 290 pound Hines was close to home and managed to walk to his house. His parents took him to the hospital in Athens.
“I was able to walk into the hospital,” Hines said. “I never will forget the look on the faces of the people at the hospital. They looked at me like I was some kind of a monster.”
Atkins, Yarbrough and Shoulders stayed UAB Hospital two weeks. A scheduled four-hour surgery for Atkins turned into a six-hour ordeal.
“I never thought I was going to die,” Atkins said. “It never was that bad. I was just afraid I would never be able to play ball again. The doctors said I was lucky.”
Hines’ stay at UAB lasted 28 days. His scheduled six-hour surgery lasted eight hours.
“My family was there every day for me,” Hines said. “I am thankful for my family and friends being there when I needed them most.”
Part of the rehab process involved Atkins and Hines playing video games to get the fingers and hands working.
“It was painful, and they had to make us do it,” Atkins said.
Atkins was cleared to join the football team last year at midseason. He saw limited action in five games.
“I don’t think I was back 100 percent,” Atkins said. “I’m not even sure I was 50 percent. I didn't really feel all the way back until sometime during basketball season.”
Hines missed all of last season. He was cleared for spring practice.
“I knew I would make it back,” Hines said. “It was great to be back on the football field in the spring.”
This past Fourth of July was the one-year anniversary of the accident. Atkins and Hines both said they stayed away from the holiday fireworks.
"I don't think I will ever want to be around fireworks again for the rest of my life," Atkins said.
Hines said the ordeal taught him a lesson that others may want to consider.
“If you are thinking about doing something and you ask yourself should I really be doing this, you probably shouldn’t,” Hines said.
Now Atkins and Hines are concentrating on football. They want their senior season to be the one that turns the program’s fortunes around. After a 16-year run in the playoffs that included two state championships and nine region championships, Tanner missed the playoffs last season with a 1-9 record.
“We’re excited to have them back and healthy for this season,” Tanner head coach Oscar Bonds said. “They have been through a lot. They’ve worked hard to recover and to have the opportunity to play some more football.”
Atkins (6-1, 190) will be the starting quarterback. Hines will start at left tackle.
“We want to close out our careers with a big season,” Atkins said. “We want to make a statement that last year’s record was not really Tanner football.”