"I'm Derrick," he said.
In June 2001, Nix was training in the weight room when he began to feel pain in his chest. He thought he'd put too much weight on the bars and pulled a muscle, but then he began struggling for breath. He was certain he was going to suffocate. As it happened, he was battling the effects of a blood clot that, he says, had traveled from his leg and lodged in his lung. This was likely a result of his disease.
Tyrone and his wife, Toya, and young son, Tyvari, were vacationing in Florida when they heard the news from Bower. They immediately packed their bags and returned to Hattiesburg. "When I saw Derrick, I realized how bad it was, " Tyrone says, "and I thought. He could be gone at any time."
Nix Redshirted the 2001 season to monitor his condition. When doctors cleared him to participate in spring practices last year, he says he felt as though his life had been given back to him. While teammates complained about the drudgery of practice, Nix approached each day with gratitude for being able to wear the Golden Eagles uniform. He dominated every drill, made long runs and refused to be tackled by any one man. After watching Nix in an early scrimmage, Bower shook his head in amazement and said to one of his assistants, "It might not be possible, but I honestly think Derrick is faster than before."
"He looked great," Bower recalls. "You had to really watch him, though. He was as impatient as could be, trying to make up for lost time. We had to tell him to slow down and remember the doctors' orders." Nix entered the 2002 season in seeming good health and excellent shape, although his stamina wasn't quite what it used to be. To monitor his condition, he had blood drawn every Monday and his blood pressure and urine checked three times a week. Doctors told him that playing football was not likely to aggravate his kidney condition as long as he continued to take his medication.
In the Golden Eagles' second game of the season, against Illinois, Nix rushed for 91 yards in the first quarter but had to sit out the second after throwing up and briefly blacking out. He had scored on a three-yard run and found himself on his back in the end zone, too exhausted to move. "I had to force myself to get up," he says, "and when I did, I got to the 10-yard line and just let it go. I still had my helmet on, and it came through my face mask."
Nix dropped to the ground and was helped off the field. He spent several minutes on the sideline drifting in and out of consciousness. "When it happened, I could see it in the eyes of the coaches and my teammates: They were worried about the kidney situation," he says. "But I just thought I was really, really tired." Team physicians gave him intravenous fluids, and he felt well enough to return for the second half. He rushed for 201 yards on the day and helped lead his team to a 23-20 upset over the defending Big Ten champions.
Although Mary Nix had traveled to Hattiesburg that weekend, she stayed behind at Tyrone's house and watched the game on TV, and she saw Derrick throw up. Tyrone returned home later, and she said to him, "Why won't you talk to Derrick and ask him to let the game go?"
"Why would I do that?" Tyrone said.
"Because it's going to kill him," she said.