Nix seemed to be living a charmed life.
of Southern Mississippi running back was playing the sport he had
loved since third grade and was on the same team where his older
brother, Tyrone, was an assistant coach.
In his first
season with the Golden Eagles, Nix turned in the 19th-best rushing
season by a freshman in NCAA history. He was selected to the All-Conference
USA team and was named C-USA Freshman Player of the Year. In 1998,
he turned in consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons as he ran for
1,180 yards, breaking a 50-year-old Southern Miss record for a freshman
running back, and 1,054 yards in 1999. He was the only player to
rush for more than 1,000 yards consecutively in their first two
years as a Golden Eagle.
Ala., athlete could do no wrong, until he suffered a setback in
his ankle in a game against Memphis, and the injury was treated
with anti-inflammatory medication. But the swelling didn't decrease.
Instead, Nix's body retained fluids, and he ballooned from 227 to
280 pounds. A kidney specialist diagnosed Nix with membranous glomerulonephritis
and prescribed medication to reduce the swelling. As a result, Nix
was forced to sit out much of the 2000 season.
to play the game he loved, Nix returned for spring training in 2001,
but later that summer, he suffered chest pains when a potentially
fatal blood clot traveled from his leg to his lung. Never one to
be deterred from his goals, Nix received a medical redshirt for
the 2001 season so he could return the next year to complete his
Back in the
black and gold for the 2002 season, Nix appeared to have conquered
all his medical setbacks. Coaches and fans alike were equally excited
to have No. 43 back on the field, and Nix, who appeared to be in
fine form, put up punishing numbers against opponents. He was finally
getting the chance to prove he was an athlete to be reckoned with,
and he sought to showcase his skills for NFL scouts.
And what a
show it was. During his final season as a Golden Eagle, Nix put
up another exemplary year. Even though he had painful shoulder and
ankle injuries and was being treated for anemia, he didn't let that
stop him. Showing trademark persistence, Nix ran for 139 yards against
East Carolina during the team's last regular season game, racking
up a total of 1,194 yards for the year and 11 touchdowns. Nix finished
his career as the school's second-leading career rusher, with 3,584
yards - only 11 yards shy of the record - and 30 touchdowns.
Nix was sustained
by sheer will and determination, but he began to feel weaker. At
the end of the season, he was in the hospital once again. This time,
Nix and his family received devastating news. Doctors diagnosed
the athlete with focal glomerulosclerosis, a severe degenerative
disease. While the news was bad, it seemed to get even worse when
Nix learned one of his kidneys was not functioning, while the other
was only operating at 10 percent. Still, there was more bad news
- the disease was progressive and untreatable.
Nix said he
was overwhelmed when he heard the news. "It was really shocking,
and I was just trying to understand what was happening," he
said. "It really hit me hard when I first found out."
were equally stunned by the news. "It really floored everybody,"
said Southern Miss Head Football Coach Jeff Bower. "You see
this guy who does everything right and gets hit by something like
this. It doesn't seem fair, but Derrick is a strong person who can
overcome just about anything."
Nix and his family were distraught over the diagnosis, but true
to form, they rebounded quickly. "[Derrick] never complained
and always had a great attitude," said Southern Miss Athletic
Director Richard Giannini.
about it, he has been an inspiration to everybody," Bower said.
"Everyone admires him for what he's accomplished and the way
he has battled through all of this and hasn't let the illness change
him. He's just been first class in the way that he has handled everything."
and courage resonated with the university and the Southern Miss
community, and fans nationwide have offered their support. To help
defray the cost of Nix's medical bills, the athletics department
established the Southern Miss Student Athlete Medical Fund in his
honor. Richard Vogel, executive director of the Southern Miss Eagle
Club, said that while Nix was the inspiration for the medical fund,
it has been needed for some time to help athletes with medical costs.
Nix will also receive proceeds from the Kristen Bower Golf Tournament.
of the university and community has been humbling to Nix. "It
really shows that they care a lot about me," he said. "They
cared more about me the person than the athlete out there carrying
of support came from Nix's family, who rallied around their youngest
child. "My family has really helped me through all of this,"
Nix said. "I couldn't have handled it by myself. With them,
I never felt that I had to handle everything by myself. I was never
alone in the situation."
In fact, as
it became apparent that Nix needed a kidney transplant to survive
and began to undergo dialysis three to four times a week, his brothers
were tested to see if their kidneys were compatible. Marcus, Nix's
eldest brother, was a perfect match.
someone gives you one of their organs to help you out, that really
is special," Nix said. "That lets you know how much you're
loved. You must really love that other person if you're willing
to give a part of your body to him. It really just shows how much
my family cares about me."
On June 5,
Nix successfully received his brother's kidney, but now he faces
the toughest challenge of his life - the long road to recovery.
While facing a life-threatening illness may have devastated many
people, Nix has not let being sick get him down. "I hope that
when others look at me, they see that having an illness doesn't
mean the end of the world," he said. "I still want to
be an active person, and I've got a lot of things that I still want
Nix is enrolled in graduate school at Southern Miss and works as
a graduate assistant coach for the football team. Whether as a coach
or in any pursuit, Bower is confident that Nix will be a success
at any endeavor he pursues. "Derrick is a very religious person,
and his faith and family have helped him through everything,"
Bower said. "I'm confident that he will excel at whatever he
sets his mind to. If anything, having the illness has made him an
even stronger person. Derrick is going to be a success at whatever
he puts his mind to."
For that determination
and devotion, Nix received the Heart of the Eagles Award at the
2003 Black and Gold game, an award selected by the coaching staff
for the player who best typifies the Golden Eagle spirit and dedication
to the team. "The heart of the Eagles - that's what he's all
about," Bower said. "You can definitely see where his