Tony Levine*”D.J. Hayden sat in his mother’s house Thursday night, surrounded by friends and family and dozens of cameras,” says World Magazine.

Then the phone rang, with the caller on the other end informing him that the NFL’s Oakland Raiders had drafted him in the first round. His family didn’t wait for the phone call to end before shouting for joy and rushing to hug the former University of Houston cornerback as he wiped away tears.

While it is not unusual for college players to celebrate being drafted by an NFL team, Hayden’s story is all but usual. The All-Conference USA player is just five months removed from a freak injury that nearly claimed his life.

During a routine full-pads drill in early November, Hayden, a senior team captain, ran to catch a deep pass over the middle and collided with a teammate coming full speed from the opposite direction. Hayden collapsed to the ground, struggling to breathe. “Felt like somebody had just taken a sledgehammer and hit [me] in the chest,” he recalled.

“It was a routine play,” Houston head coach Tony Levine said. “It was a collision I’ve seen happen … probably thousands of times.”

Initially, coaches believed Hayden had suffered merely a broken rib, but when he was taken into the locker room, his condition worsened. His breathing became more strained and his vision dimmed. Athletic trainer Mike O’Shea recognized the severity of the injury and called an ambulance. At the Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute, doctors discovered Hayden was bleeding internally from his chest. The 22-year-old had torn his inferior vena cava (IVC), the vein transporting blood from the lower half of his body to his heart. It is an injury sometimes suffered in automobile accidents or in battle combat, and has a 95 percent fatality rate.