Note: This article is reprinted with permission from Tennessee Tech. Visit Tennessee Tech's web site for audio clips of the Hixon family's press conference.
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- It had been nearly five months since Drew Hixon last walked across the Tennessee Tech campus. On Saturday night, Jan. 29, he walked across the court at Eblen Center, accompanied by his family.
That doesn't sound too significant, but considering all that the Hixon family has been through since September, those few steps were an incredible and moving event. Drew's father Stan, who is the Redskins' wide receivers coach, and his family was with him for the occasion.
Just one semester shy of graduation, the leading receiver on the unbeaten Golden Eagle football team boarded the team's bus on Friday, Sept. 10, to head to Tampa, Fla., with his teammates.
On Sunday, the team returned without him. On Monday, one seat was empty in each of his classes.
The senior finance major was in a coma in a hospital in Tampa, clinging to life with a serious head injury. His family, strong in its faith, was at his bedside, praying with him, supporting him, encouraging him.
Back in Cookeville, information on his condition trickled out as news media poured in. And so did cards, phone calls and letters of support for Drew and his family. And emails. And prayers.
Everyone who heard of Drew's critical injury during that Sept. 11 game at the University of South Florida sought ways to help. Not just in Cookeville, but across the country--even as far away as Europe.
"That was a difficult time for many, many people," said Mark Wilson, Tennessee Tech athletics director. "His teammates and coaching staff, the university, Tech's student body, people throughout the community. People across the country who had no connection to Tennessee Tech, but heard of Drew's situation."
And there was so little anyone could do--except wait. And pray.
More than 1,000 people came out to Tucker Stadium one sunny afternoon in September to form Drew's number "7" on Overall Field. An aerial photo was taken to send to his family to demonstrate the level up support throughout the community.
Weeks later, when Drew emerged from the coma, the outlook was still not certain. And weeks after that, when Drew was moved from Florida to Virginia to began rehabilitation, so many questions swirled.
His determination, and the unwavering support of his family, have brought Drew through a remarkable recovery process. He has relearned many of the basic movements of life, such as walking, talking--and laughing.
He's still undergoing rehabilitation, and has a ways to go, but he was excited about his first opportunity to return to campus. It was just for one day, of course, but it was a significant step in his recovery.
Drew plans to return to Tech in the near future and complete what remains for his degree, but for now it was a simple matter of seeing the people who have been praying for him, and have sent so many kind thoughts and concerns to Drew and his family.
"Our first concern is Drew's family and their welfare," said Mark Wilson. "They have been very strong throughout this whole time, and we want to support them.
"Very few of us will ever really understand exactly what they've gone through as a family. Many of us know how deeply this hurt each of us, and how great our concern has been for Drew's recovery, but our concern could never be as intense as his own family's commitment to his recovery."
The celebration of Drew Hixon Night at Eblen Center was part of a night of Ohio Valley Conference basketball action. Tech's women's and men's teams, both currently in first place in the league standings with perfect 4-0 records, will host Tennessee State University.
"We are all very excited about Drew's return to campus," said Wilson. "So many people have expressed concern and said prayers on Drew's behalf, and this event will give them their first opportunity to support him and his family in person."
It was also be a special event for Tech's students and staff, many of whom taught or had classes with Drew.
"Right from the beginning, the entire university has shown support for Drew and his family," said TTU president Bob Bell. "This special event was a chance to celebrate the remarkable progress that he is making, and to show his family how much we have cared for them."
As a special feature of the evening, the entire football team was be in the stands and the Robert Hill Johnson Award was presented.