Antwan Dixon couldn't eat, his mouth too sore for even soup after several teeth were pulled. A cavity could pose a threat while he waited for a bone marrow transplant to treat aplastic anemia. His body had stopped producing the necessary amount of new blood cells.
Dixon, a receiver for Kent State, had the transplant on April 13, 2017. He was released from the hospital after two weeks, a week ahead of schedule, and told his family he planned to play football again. After missing two seasons, Dixon is back with Kent State. In eight games, he has 32 catches for 319 yards and a touchdown, and is one 15 nominees so far for the college football's new Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award .
There will be 30 nominees from all divisions of college football by the end of the season. The winner is selected by a panel of sports information directors and media members, including the AP college football poll panel.
Among the other nominees are:
— Virginia Tech defensive back Caleb Farley, who missed all of last season with a knee injury and then lost his mother to cancer this year. Farley, a redshirt freshman, has two interceptions, a sack, 15 tackles and has averaged 21.33 yard on six kickoff returns this season.
— Purdue quarterback David Blough, who dislocated an ankle late last season and managed to return for spring practice. Blough is second in the Big Ten, averaging 296 yards passing per game and just guided the Boilermakers to a 49-20 victory upset of Ohio State.
— Houston receiver Marquez Stevenson, who missed most of his freshman season because of injuries and all of last season because of an ACL tear in his left knee during preseason practice. Stevenson leads the Cougars in receptions with 40 receptions for 613 yards, with six touchdowns.
Dixon was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in high school. It causes fatigue and frequent infections. Dixon said he went months with strep throat, ear aches and cold symptoms. Medication was prescribed to keep his symptoms in check. It worked well enough for him to earn a scholarship to Kent State out of South Fort Meyers High School in Florida.
As a freshman in 2015, the 5-foot-9 slotback led the Golden Flashes with 355 yards on 26 catches and had touchdown runs of 47 and 75 yards. But late in that season, Dixon started to feel the symptoms of his condition again. When he got checked by doctors, his red blood cells, white blood cells and platelet counts were too low.
"At first we were going to try to keep doing the pills, but the pills gave me a chronic kidney disease," Dixon said. "My kidneys were really bad because of the medicine. Doctors said it wasn't healthy. So it was at that point it was time to get a transplant. I was really starting to get worse again, back to the point where I was when I was a junior in high school."
Before the bone marrow transplant, Dixon had chemotherapy, took big doses of antibiotics and had several teeth extracted to guard against infections.
"There was one point I was in the hospital, this was right after I got my teeth taken out and I couldn't eat," he said. "I end up losing 50 pounds just because I couldn't eat. I couldn't get soup or anything down because my mouth was so sore and I didn't have any cells to make my body heal faster.
"I was in the bed and my mom was just in there and I was crying because I couldn't eat and I was frustrated," said Dixon, whose father was the bone marrow donor. "I told my mom that I wasn't going to give up. Ever since that day my mindset was I'm never going to give up."
Dixon returned to working out with the team this summer and found his speed was back to normal, though doctors have told him a full return to health could be months away.
"I know I can do better. And I have to do better. Just the opportunity to be back out on the field is all that really matters," Dixon said. "I've got to keep taking advantage of the situation I'm in. Keep pushing to be a better football player now that I am healthy enough to play."
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