By David Knox
Maybe it’s just rolled, Bo Nix thought. Maybe I can play with it. Maybe I can walk it off.
It was a zone read, and the No. 2 dual-threat junior quarterback in the nation intended to find the end zone. He pulled the ball away and ran to the right, cut upfield and cut behind a defender.
“Then somebody came from my left and they tackled me kinda low, and when their body weight fell on my ankle at about the 3-yard line,” Nix said.
He got up from the Willie Adams Stadium turf and tested it out. He was hoping it was just a bad sprain, maybe, but the realization was starting to sink in.
The Pinson Valley star junior quarterback handed off on the next play to Dilan Henderson, who found the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown, then Nix knelt down and held for Aiden Campbell’s extra point to give the Indians a 14-0 lead over Jasper.
The four-star prospect then hobbled over to the sideline to his head coach.
“I’m done, Dad. I’m out for the game.”
“At first he looked at me like, ‘Are you joking?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m really hurt.’ When he heard that he knew something was wrong, because he knew if it was anything light, I’d play through it. After that, I was just hoping for the best-case scenario, maybe a rolled ankle, out for a couple of weeks.”
But after a trip to the emergency room, it was far from the best-case scenario — a fractured ankle.
Dr. Norman Waldrop of Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, a foot and ankle specialist, did the surgery at 2 a.m. Saturday morning.
The X-rays didn’t look too bad, but after going in, the doctors saw it was not only broken but displaced. An original assessment of three or four weeks off the field became more like five or six — pushing it toward the end of the season for the unbeaten Indians.
By the time the news spread, one question rose above others: Could this derail the Indians’ perfect season and state championship aspirations?
Coach Patrick Nix’s Indians finished off Jasper 35-0 to move to 5-0. With sophomore Barry White at the helm, they survived a major scare from Shades Valley, winning 28-27 in overtime when the Mounties failed on a two-point conversion.
Next came a welcomed open date, and easier wins over Center Point, Gardendale and Carver followed as Jackie Matthews, the senior who’d started at quarterback for three seasons before Nix arrived, shifted back for dual duty as cornerback and shared snaps at quarterback with White.
White and Matthews helped the Indians to a 9-0 mark and lock up the Class 6A, Region 6 championship before the regular-season finale at Pleasant Grove.
Meanwhile, Nix was rooting from the sideline Friday nights and grinding through the rehab during the rest of the week.
It was a new challenge. Except for a mild right shoulder injury in ninth grade that caused him to miss all of two baseball games, he’d never been hurt. And he’d never faced this kind of adversity.
So while the Indians were running the table, he was running, lifting, doing anything he could do and everything his doctor said. He was displaying what the college scouts see beyond the quarterback’s obvious football skills. He was displaying, in the obscurity and loneliness of rehab, the heart, will and mental toughness to get back on the field.
“I was very aggressive,” Nix said. “As soon as I came to the realization it was broken and had surgery, my goal was to get back as soon as possible. I wanted to make a fast recovery, one of the fastest my doctor had ever seen,” Nix said, snapping his fingers repeatedly in emphasis. “Be like one of those players that comes back from an injury sooner than normal.
“I knew what my doctor was telling me was right, and I was going to be very disciplined and push through the pain.”
Still, it wasn’t easy watching. It was probably tougher on the Pinson Valley fans, who were still wondering if there would be a misstep until — and if — their prize quarterback could get back.
All eyes now were on White, Matthews, LiAllen Dailey, the running game, the defense.
“I knew they were going to do the best they could and if something happens and we lost a game, then we lost a game,” Nix said of White and Matthews. “But for sure they came in and did a great job went 5-0 when I was out and really the defense had to step up, the guys around the quarterback had to step up. Barry came in and did his job and did whatever Dad and his coaches asked him to do. I kept telling him, ‘All you have to do is get the receivers and the running backs the ball,’ and he did a great job of that and did a great job taking care of the ball.”
In the 10th game of the season, Nix trotted back on the field at Pleasant Grove and looked like he’d never missed a snap. He went 17-of-27 passing for 238 yards and four touchdowns in leading the Indians to a 34-0 win to complete the first perfect regular season in school history.
“It was awesome just to be back out there playing, doing what I’m good at,” Nix said, “Being back, a part of the team, just playing with them again.”
The Indians plowed through the early rounds of the playoffs, handling Florence 45-20, beating defending 6A champ Ramsay for a second time in the season, 41-13, then upsetting top-ranked Austin 51-50 in overtime in Decatur.
Next came archrival Clay-Chalkville, which the Indians had beaten just 34-32 in the regular season. This time, in the semifinals, Pinson Valley pulled away in the second half for a 37-7 stunner, and the Indians were on their way to Tuscaloosa.
Pinson Valley, behind Nix’s MVP performance, took down Wetumpka 31-10 for the school’s first state football championship and its first perfect season in its 48 seasons.
Nix went 13-for-25 for 223 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores on a frigid night after a snowy day at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
It was also a first championship for father and son, and sharing it made it all the more special.
“His first and my first, so doing it together … seems like we’ve been trying so hard … I’ve been playing for him since eighth-grade so it’s been four years and it’s always been our goal,” Nix said. “To finally accomplish it, it’s just awesome, especially to do it with your dad.”
There are so many points in a dream season where that dream can fall apart or come together.
It could have been the first Clay-Chalkville game, or the overtime win behind White against Shades Valley, or the upset overtime win at Austin, or even the second Clay game.
Even with all the pieces there, maybe the dream season came together when one of those pieces — namely Nix’s left ankle — came apart.
“I definitely think it was a turning point, to see that it wasn’t about one guy,” Nix said. “This team was so much stronger and so much better than one person.”