E.A. Sports Today

‘Miracle’ Matt

Weaver senior lineman Elston determined to get back on the field with his teammates, makes quick recovery, after a scary accident

Weaver senior Matt Elston suffered burns to his hands and arms in a barbecue accident two weeks ago, but he returned to help the Bearcats win a first-round playoff game last week. On the cover, Elston moves in on a scoop and score against Randolph County. (Cover photo by Jeremy Wortham/TigerDenPhotography)

Weaver senior Matt Elston suffered burns to his hands and arms in a barbecue accident two weeks ago, but he returned to help the Bearcats win a first-round playoff game last week. On the cover, Elston moves in on a scoop and score against Randolph County. (Cover photo by Jeremy Wortham/TigerDenPhotography)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

WEAVER – Daryl Hamby thinks it is nothing short of a miracle Matt Elston was on the field Friday to help his Weaver football team beat Fultondale in the Class 3A playoffs and he’ll continue to be out there for the remainder of the Bearcats’ playoff run.

Elston, an aggressive senior right tackle and defensive end, was involved in a frightening backyard barbecue accident the Sunday before the Bearcats’ final regular season game two weeks ago and it’s only through what they all believe is divine intervention he is able to play today.

What started out as a gesture of kindness to comfort a family member turned into near disaster when Elston was blown off the deck by an explosion at the grill he was tending. Initial reports indicated the healing process from the second- and third-degree burns he received would take several months to heal, but in less than two weeks Elston was on the field helping his team play one of its best defensive games of the year.

The Bearcats (8-3) now host Lexington (8-3) in their first home playoff game since 2005 Friday and Elston is expected to be back on the field.

“I wouldn’t be able to play with a severe sunburn, I can’t image how this feels,” Hamby said. “In my mind, I’m going he’ll never play again. Even if we’re fortunate to get to the second round, he’s not going to make that.

“For what they did at the doctors, and all the praying we did – all of us – it is a miracle that kid not only is playing, but played in the first round of the playoffs — and not just play kind of good, he played really well. We never thought that he was going to be playing. For him to have that turnaround from not being able to make Senior Night to walk and play the way he did, (it’s) just a miracle.”

Elston just wanted to do something nice for a cousin who was feeling poorly after just losing his pet, so he offered to grill for the family. Things were going well, but changed in an instant. He had just turned over the hot dogs and wanted to add a little more lighter fluid to the coals before throwing on the steaks.

When he turned the bottle over, the cap flew off sending a torrent of fuel all over the grill. The force of the ensuing blast knocked him some 10 feet off the deck. The flames burned the shirt he was wearing off his body and left him with burns on his right hand, both arms and neck.

After putting himself out and regaining his senses, Elston went inside to take a cold shower, which he later learned prevented the burns from going deeper into his flesh.

Hamby was still tweaking the game plan for Saks when he got the news from Elston. At first he thought it was a joke because the lineman is prone to punking his coach, but this was serious. The text was sent from the emergency room at RMC.

Two days later Elston returned to his doctor and his first question was whether he would ever be able to play football again. When the doctor said no, the nurse, who just happened to be Weaver kicker Riley Benavides’ mother, reminded the room the Bearcats were in the playoffs. The doctor revised his assessment to a more optimistic but not so reassuring, “We’ll see.”

Elston was determined to get back on the field. He had to stay home for the Senior Night game against Saks — for which he would have been a captain — but was back for the playoffs.

“Teammates are depending on me,” he said. “I can’t just lay down and be like, ‘I got burned, I don’t have to play; I have a legit reason not to play.’ I wanted to get out there and help out my teammates and get back. I didn’t want to be lazy with it. I wanted to get it taken it care of and do what I had to do. I wasn’t going to let anything like this hold me back from doing what I could do.

“God was the main reason – the only reason – I’m back. I could have been dead. God is the only reason I’m alive right now. He allowed me to come back and play and be healed as quick as I can. The doctor said it would be 2-3 months and I was back in a week and a half. Most definitely a miracle.”

Elston has his right hand wrapped and a heavy bandage on the middle finger, but otherwise there doesn’t appear to be any permanent damage to the hand. Skin grafts weren’t immediately necessary, Elston said, because the affected areas appear to be healing well on their own. During the games, Benavides’ mom wraps the burns, cleans them at halftime and wraps them again. That will be the routine throughout the playoffs.

“I didn’t think he’d play again,” Bearcats quarterback Paul Hubbard said. “I thought he was done for the whole season. I was worried about him for wrestling. It just showed us how much he loves us, how close he is with the team, how bad he wants it.”

For the record, Elston will not wrestle this winter, a decision he made before getting hurt; he was a 2015 county champion and 2016 runnerup. He does, however, plan to play on the Bearcats’ newly formed soccer team and run track.

The Bearcats have fought through adversity all season. They lost running back Gio Mosley to a season-ending left knee injury at the height of region play and then versatile tight end Cody Oritz suffered a compound leg fracture Friday on a short pass early in the Fultondale game.

With Elston on the sideline and no immediate timeline on his return the Bearcats had to adapt in a hurry. At full strength, they are a 4-2-5/3-4 defense, but the injuries forced them to discover a new look – a 3-3 stack.

The new defense was solid enough to hold off Saks and then mixing it up against Fultondale the Bearcats held one of the highest scoring teams in 3A without an offensive touchdown. Now, they have options.

“The way they responded not only to win the game but the way they did it is pretty incredible on their part,” Hamby said. “We’ve just got to keep it going.”

While the Bearcats might go back to their old defense this week, it isn’t likely Elston will go back to the grill any time soon.

“It’ll probably be a while,” he said.

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