This is a story about courage on the football field, about finishing your job, about being there for teammates when your body is begging you to go to the hospital. Above all, it's about playing hurt.
Kansas University had at least one such player Saturday, the day the football team dominated Southeastern Louisiana, 62-0, at Memorial Stadium.
His lip was bloodied. His right arm was broken. He kept on playing. When a teammate criticized his form and told him to raise his arm, the teenager playing hurt told him he couldn't, told him he thought he had broken his arm when he fell.
"Then what are you doing here?" the teammate asked, horrified. "Get out of here."
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound true freshman playing hurt didn't listen. He kept right on playing. You didn't hear about him during either the radio broadcast or the television replay. You didn't read about him in the next day's newspaper. That's fine with him. He doesn't play for the glory of it. He plays because he loves to play.
Erik Nice is the young man who played hurt Saturday at Memorial Stadium. He doesn't play football. He plays the baritone for the Kansas marching band.
Before every home football game, the band members march down two rows of steps at the north end of the stadium. Nice made it down the steep steps, but then a few steps onto the field, he fell forward, cut his lip, and fractured his right humerus bone (upper arm). He quickly got back on his feet and ran forward until he found his position.
Nice used to march for the Lawrence High band. Junior Andrew Fyler, Nice's section leader in the KU band, used to march for the Free State High band. It was Fyler who told Nice to hold his horn high, only to be told about the injury.
"I was shocked when he told me that," Fyler said. "Somehow, he marched all of pregame with his just left arm. I have trouble holding our instrument with both our arms. He did it all with his left arm. It was just amazing. Then I noticed blood coming off his lip."
How did Nice do it?
"It really didn't hit me how much it hurt right away," Nice said. "I just got up and started running."
"Not really," he said. "I was more thinking about getting back in my spot. We got through the first couple of songs, and then it hit me how much it hurt."
Still, he kept playing through several more songs and stayed out there when the football players ran onto the field. Then medical personnel on the field gave him attention and called his mother, Julie, to inform her that if she couldn't take him to the emergency room at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, someone else would. Julie quickly made her way to the stadium to take her son to the ER. It was there that Nice learned it was a clean break, no surgery would be needed, and a sling and pain pills would suffice. He'll visit an orthopedist Thursday.
The bell of the insured baritone - a mini-tuba of sorts - was dented. The instrument is undergoing treatment.
Band members, it turns out, are allowed to discuss their injuries.
"I hope to be back out there in a month or two," Nice said. "I should know more Thursday."
This much already is known: tough boy, that Nice boy.