JEFFERSON – Malik Cannon lay in the helicopter, trying not to focus on his eight gunshot wounds.

He was in awe of how beautiful the city looked from so high. That and the incredible adrenaline rush were enough to distract him from the pain as the helicopter made its way to Shreveport, where he would receive medical treatment at University Health.

Despite the severity and uncertainty of the situation, Cannon remained calm.

“I knew I was in God’s hands,” he said.

Malik Cannon dodges a tackler. He has overcome a summer shooting to become Jefferson's third-leading tackler this season. (photo courtesy of Malik Cannon)

 

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Earlier that day, Deontra Tyre Lilly showed up outside the apartment complex where Cannon and his father -- who was not home at the time -- lived with and made good on his word.

After the two got into a spat over a girl with whom they were mutual friends, Lilly began sending threatening texts to Cannon. He told him he knew where he lived and implied he was going to come shoot him. Cannon didn’t take the threats seriously until he was outside on June 26 and caught a glimpse of Lilly.

He immediately ran.

Lilly began firing, hitting Cannon eight times. He was shot in the left shoulder, right arm, twice in the back, once in both legs and twice in the stomach. Luckily, a mailman heard the gunshots and came to help Cannon as Lilly fled. Cannon jumped on to the back of the mail truck and rode to safety until police and medics arrived.

On his way to the hospital, Cannon, a running back and linebacker for Jefferson, could only think of football. He spent all offseason working out and hoped this wouldn’t impact his season. Once he arrived, the doctors treated his wounds and he found out he was relatively lucky.

“When I first found out all the places I got shot, they didn’t know if I could play football,” Cannon said. “Coach (Antwain Jimmerson), he came to the ambulance and asked if I was OK. I said, ‘I’m gonna be back before football season starts.’ At first, everybody didn’t think I would be back. I said I would be back before the first game.”

He was back by the Bulldogs’ second scrimmage.

As Cannon sat in the hospital receiving the good news, he was unaware that teammate Tybo Williams sat in a different room hearing what he didn’t want.

Jefferson's Tybo Williams at the ETSN/APEC combine May 20, weeks before the shooting.

 

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Carl Williams was cutting hair at his barber shop when his son walked in with a bloody arm.

Tybo was leaving a Family Dollar near the apartment complex at the same time Lilly was fleeing. The two crossed paths as Tybo was getting into his car, and Tybo went into shock. Lilly reached into the car and shot him in the left arm before running again.

Tybo said he did not know Lilly prior to the incident and has no idea what caused him to stop and shoot him. ETSN.fm reached out to the Jefferson police department several times for comment from the investigating officer, but failed to receive a response.

Tybo had a friend drive him to his father’s barber shop, where the police came to take a report and assess the wound.

Lilly was eventually arrested and booked into Gregg County Jail on an outstanding warrant for aggravated assault/reckless discharge of a firearm.

Although it remains unclear what caused Lilly to fire then instead of continuing to run, one thing is certain: it changed the course of Tybo's and Jefferson's 2018 season.

“That was a hard day,” Carl Williams said. “I was kind of in shock. I didn’t know what to do at first to stop the bleeding. Someone had already called the police. They thought it happened at my shop all came up to my shop to keep him from going into shock until the ambulance got here.”

When Tybo arrived in at the hospital in Longview, his situation was worse than Cannon’s. He could move his pinky and ring fingers, but the rest were frozen. He suffered nerve damage and had no feeling in his hand. Although both feeling and movement would eventually return, his recovery would take a lot longer than Cannon’s.

Tybo watched from the sidelines as Dee Black took over in Jefferson's opener, rushing for 210 yards and four touchdowns. It was tough for Tybo, who was the starter last year when he rushed for 1,044 yards and 15 touchdowns, not to be able to contribute. Still, he tried to focus on the positive.

“It made me think about a lot of stuff," he said. "About still being alive. I used to have a real bad attitude but it’s changed me to be more happy and thankful for the people in my life.”

Tybo returned for Jefferson's third game of the season against Arp. Although he only had two carries in the game, he scored on his first, a tremendous feeling after months of recovery.

Since then, he has taken somewhat of a secondary role with 31 carries for 362 yards and four touchdowns through eight games. Although it's a change of pace after starting in 2017, he said he's merely happy to be playing.

“My main goal is to go to state," he said. "Help my team and keep pushing and give them the motivation that they can do it.”

Tybo Williams with his arm in a sling after the shooting. (Photo courtesy of Tybo Williams)

***

When situations like this occur, it can be tempting to focus on the obvious bad.

But Cannon looks at the positives of the situation. He is still playing football, and actually excelling. He is third on the team in tackles with 123 and tied for second in sacks with three. Jefferson is 11-0 and still on path to achieve its state dreams, with Malakoff in the 3A Division I area round at 2p.m. Friday in Mineola.

But the most valuable thing that blossomed from this was a friendship.

Tybo and Cannon rarely, if ever, hung out outside of practice, games and class beforehand. They were more acquaintances than friends. Now, the two make an effort to see each other outside of school and sports.

“Me and Tybo weren’t as close as we are now," Cannon said. "We learned some things. At first, we were cool, but we weren’t always around each other. We talked as teammates but we weren’t close friends. Now, we’re friends in and out of school.”

Cannon is also cognizant of the impact his story could have on others. He said he would tell people to tell a parent or police about threats as soon as they come through if they found themselves in the same situation.

“It impacted not only my life but everybody else’s," Cannon said. "I can tell people my testimony and show them how I went through something life-threatening. I can teach them and show them to not make the same mistakes I did.”

Cannon hopes to eventually attend the University of Texas, preferably as a football player. A lot of his family attended there and he wants to continue the tradition.

“I’m trying to get my ACT scores up to be looked at by colleges," he said. "That’s my hopes and dreams. To go to college and make it to the NFL."

Tybo dreams of playing college football, too. It's why, in the moments after they got shot, football was one of the first things on both of their minds.

"When I first started playing football, I was good at it," Cannon said. "The coaches were telling me that I could be something. Football was my way of getting out. Ever since then, I’ve been focusing on football and keeping out of trouble.”

If anything, the situation has only heightened their focus. Surviving meant the football dream lived, and that meant another chance at the life they still hope to one day have.