The Gift

Derrick Nix lost his future in football. Thanks to his brother, he still has a future without it.

Updated: May 7, 2003, 12:06 PM ET
By Luke Cyphers
You should see the tape of him, before the disease caught him, before he slept every night tethered by rubber hoses to machines that clean his blood. In the open field, the long legs carry Derrick Nix past defenders who, at first glance, seem faster. In traffic he's compact; pads so low hardly anybody gets a clean shot on him. When they do, the 225-pound halfback decleats 'em. After one such decleating, the Southern Mississippi PA announcer started calling him Baby Bull, and the name stuck. But a banner on the gray concrete grandstand that proclaims Roberts Stadium "The Rock & at Southern Miss" could have stood for Derrick Nix, too.

Nobody since Brett Favre had produced more excitement in Hattiesburg. Nobody, including Favre, gave more to Southern Miss football. In four years, Nix ran for 3,584 yards and 30 touchdowns, leading the Golden Eagles to 31 victories and four bowl berths. He earned a degree, never missed a practice, never dogged a sprint, never got arrested and never, ever quit. He ran 'til he dropped, ran 'til he threw up, then ran 'til his kidneys gave out. He gained 139 yards the week before he went on dialysis. He capped a 1,194-yard season a month before they put him on a transplant list. And now kidney disease has robbed him of an NFL career and will put him on an operating table soon after Memorial Day.
Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.