Nix lately has been reconsidering his future and planning a career as a college football coach. Bower has offered him a position as a graduate assistant, and Nix, who is studying for a master's degree in coaching, intends to begin work in the fall, after he recovers from the transplant.
In the meantime he still dreams about playing the game and fantasizes about a return. He has contemplated contacting sporting-goods manufacturers to find out if they might create a piece of protective equipment to cover the area where his new kidney will reside. He has broached the subject of a comeback with Tyrone many times. After all, Derrick says, three years ago Sean Elliott played in the NBA with a transplanted kidney. Why can't Derrick Nix play with one in the NFL in 2004? Tyrone, who admires his brother's heart, is never certain how to reply.
"After I get this transplant, if there are two or three doctors who say there is something I can wear that makes it at least 99 percent safe for me to play, I'll give it a shot," Derrick says. "It's probably just wishful thinking, but football is in my blood, and playing again is in my head."
By now the players have completed their drills and left for home, and a wash of gold illuminates the Rock. Derrick Nix is staring out at the field where on Saturdays in the fall he once was as good as it got in Hattiesburg. The great players come and go, their achievements recounted on the placards that hang in the shade under the stands of the old stadium, but the best of them are those whose example inspires others to fight on and to win when winning requires everything. Nix believes this.
"I feel that people here love me," he is saying. "I get stopped all the time on my way to class by students I've been seeing for years but who've never been introduced to me. They'll stop me and ask me how I'm doing. I never get tired of people coming up and being nice to me. I hope I don't sound like I'm bragging, but I really do think I've come to mean something to people."