#NashStrong carrying Central Michigan to make a difference

Nick Beamish (#54) of Central Michigan hopes to honor former teammate Derrick Nash with a victory over Western Michigan. (Courtesy CMU Athletics)

CMU-WMU-game-factsNick Beamish would love nothing more than for his Central Michigan Chippewas to defeat rival Western Michigan on Saturday in the Battle for the Cannon.

Should the Chips prevail Beamish will undoubtedly hoist the Cannon Trophy thinking about a former teammate he hopes will be looking down on the jubilation.

Derrick Nash may have been laid to rest a little more than one month before preseason camp began, but he is still very much a part of the CMU football program.

Nash lost his battle to leukemia over the summer at the way-too-young age of 20. His courageousness was such that he touched most anybody he came in contact. That includes Beamish, a graduate student who has started 44 career games at center and was a first team All-MAC selection last season.

“He touched everybody here at CMU — coaches, players, the student body and even CMU employees,” said Beamish, a team captain. “He made a difference in all of our lives with the fight and perseverance he showed. We all remember him and we definitely play for him. We know that he is with us this season and he will be with CMU football forever.”

The team is honoring Nash this season by giving his No. 21 to a designated player each week. This week at Western Michigan senior linebacker Tim Hamilton will wear the number.

“Through the first five games you can definitely tell that it has had a huge impact on them,” said Beamish of those who have worn the number so far. “It is definitely an achievement being able to represent Derrick and it is something they will always remember.”

When Beamish thinks of Nash he remembers a young man that not only had a fighting spirit, somebody who was determined to defeat his illness, but a teammate and a friend who appeared so strong that it was hard to believe anything could possibly be wrong with him.

Derrick Nash (Courtesy CMU Athletics)
Derrick Nash (Courtesy CMU Athletics)

In fact, after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (cancer of the white blood cells) prior to graduating high school in May 2013, there was a point in which Nash appeared to have won his battle.

Having beaten the illness into remission and with the all-clear for physical activity, he enrolled at CMU in early 2014 and participated in the spring game. Nash performed well in preseason camp and in the week of the Sept. 20 game at Kansas switched from defensive back to running back, the position he starred in high school. He looked so good in practice there was some thought he might make his collegiate debut against the Jayhawks. That same week, however, doctors found the cancer returned and Nash never took the field in a game. The team honored his fortitude the remainder of the season with a helmet sticker and #NashStrong wrist bands.

“We really thought he was going to actually play that week,” recalled Beamish, who has twice been named to the Rimington Trophy watch list as the nation’s most outstanding center. “Then we got the bad news that (the leukemia) had come back. Just the fact that he could beat it and come back was remarkable. He was a big kid and the way he would work out you would not think that he went through anything.”

A bright spot came at the end of last season when, with clearance from his physicians, Nash made the trip to the inaugural Bahamas Bowl on Christmas Eve where he as an honorary captain.

The Chips may have lost the game by a point to Western Kentucky, but their holiday was hardly diminished thanks to Nash’s presence.

“I remember just how happy we all were in the Bahamas when he made the trip with us,” said Beamish. “It was genuine happiness when he was there with everybody.”

Nash’s determination had a profound effect on Beamish, who in August received a degree in sports management and is currently in CMU’s Master of Science Administration program.

“Seeing what he went through, as well as others that are fighting through similar situations, really puts things into perspective,” he said. “You might have a hard day at practice, did not do very well on an exam or something like that, but it really is not that bad when you at look at the bigger picture with what Derrick went through and what other people are going through.”

Should Beamish hoist the Cannon Trophy skyward following the 86th meeting between the in-state rivals, there is a good chance Nash will reach down and touch it.

Above: Nick Beamish (54) of Central Michigan hopes to honor former teammate Derrick Nash with a victory over Western Michigan. (Courtesy CMU Athletics)
Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa.