SAN ANTONIO -- Playing through pain is prevalent in high school football, so when Deon Mix felt a stinging pain in his side during an August practice, he never thought to quit.
The offensive guard from Batesville (Miss.) South Panola went on, thinking he had a bad cramp. When he was examined in the emergency room later that night, he was told his spleen and liver had swelled to twice their normal size because of mononucleosis.
The U.S. Army All-American looks back to that week-long hospitalization as a possible end of a promising career.
"I couldn't swallow because my esophagus had swollen shut and (I) had to be on an IV for a week," he said. "When the doctors told me what was happening with my liver and spleen and that mono could have killed me, I just started praying.
"I just kept asking God for another chance and really hoping to get better."
Mix is a 6-foot-4, 305-pound offensive lineman who is committed to Mississippi State. It was not his only health scare of the season.
"They thought I had heat stroke during two-a-day (practices), but I was just dehydrated," he said. "The doctors didn't say that the two were really related, but I think that if I had been taking better care that neither would have happened."
He said that once he knew he would be able to play football again it was all he could think about doing.
"At first I was really worried that I wouldn't play again," he said. "I just kept thinking that if this was something that could kill me it was something that could take away football.
"Once the doctors got the medicine in me and got everything back to normal, they said I should sit out three more weeks and let my body heal and recover."
Mix sat out two weeks.
"We were playing Bentonville (Ark.) High) and I had already missed the Hoover (Ala.) High) and Gulfport (Miss.) High) games," he said. "I wasn't sitting out any more than that.
"My mom kept asking me if I was sure because I had more to lose than gain, but I had to get back out there."
South Panola lost to Bentonville by 35 points in his first game back, but Mix said that he was thrilled to be on the field.
"Man, it was great," he said. "I keep telling people that I played my best game that day. I probably didn't if we look at film, but it was just so great to be out there again."
South Panola went on to win the Mississippi Class 6A state championship this year. He said that he was not slowed at all.
"I was right back out there leading conditioning," he said. "I was running and moving like nothing happened. Just needed to get everything in check and I was good."
Mix was asked to play in the Army Bowl and represent his state. It was an honor that he took very seriously.
"All of this is a blessing," he said. "It is something that I honestly can say I always wanted to do. I wanted to be an All-American and it is happening."
Now in San Antonio playing with 90 of the top high school football players in the country, Mix is hoping to show that the downtime was not taking anything away from his game.
His ranking dropped from the No. 4 guard in the country to No. 10 over the course of the season. He is the No. 198 player in the Rivals250.
"I am here to get that back up," he said. "I saw my rankings drop and I was real focused on coming down here to play."
So far his performance has been noticed by Rivals.com analyst Jason Howell, who has been covering the West team.
"He has been a very big presence for the team and has stepped in and shored up the interior of the West offensive line," Howell said. "And he is one of the vocal leaders on the team."
The game airs on NBC at 1 p.m. ET Saturday. No matter his performance, Mix said being here is certainly better than the grim alternative.
"I almost died," he said. "That is very real. This is incredible and I am thankful."