Derek Hatcher was a fighter. But he couldn't be drug addiction.
CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - It's a drug that's tearing apart families on the First Coast and affecting even the most promising young men and women.
On the field, Derek Hatcher was a standout quarterback. He beat the odds.
"They said you won't win at Ridgeview, don't go there," he told a group of young athletes about his high school. "We went three rounds deep in the playoffs - we won the first district title in school history."
At home, he was a momma's boy - her whole world.
"I remember one game he threw for over 400 yards," Debbie Kelly says of her son. "He set records. He went to college camps. He was heavily recruited in high school."
He was recruited by Arkansas and headed off to college. "He went to the University of Arkansas and played his first year there," Debbie says. "Then he transferred to Charleston Southern University and played quarterback."
"It was going great," she continues, "until I got a phone call."
Derek had been kicked out of Charleston Southern.
"I thought, 'no way, not my Derek, he doesn't do that," she says. "He came home that night and it was the beginning of a three-year nightmare."
It was one choice that led Derek down the wrong path.
"I walked into a party and my boy said, 'Yo Hatch, try this,'" Derek said. "It was a line of white powder on the table."
And that's all it took. One try and he was hooked. It wasn't long before Derek went from college athlete to jail inmate. That time behind bars was a wake-up call.
"He was doing great: he got sober, graduated drug court," Debbie says. "He started going to schools talking to kids about not doing drugs and what happened to him."
Derek got another chance. He was recruited to play quarterback at Webber International University in Florida.
"The next call I got," she explains, "he was dead in his dorm room."
Derek had overdosed on heroin and fentanyl.
"I think people think it only affects a certain community, race or type of people," Debbie says. "But that is not true. It is affecting everyone."
Derek's mother is far from alone. Last year, close to 500 people on the First Coast overdosed on heroin and her fentanyl.
At the time of this writing, the Medical Examiner's morgue is full. The bodies belong to mostly overdose cases. It's become such a problem that Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health crisis.
President Donald Trump has even created a special task force to find money for rehab clinics.
"This is an epidemic," Debbie says. "This has gotten out of control. We need help from the government. We need people who have nowhere to go or turn, they need an answer."
Derek says it best himself in a video shot before he died.
"So why not guys?" he told a group of young athletes. "Why not take a step up and never pick up... never pick up, guys."
Derek's mother has continued his fight against young people using opioids. She created Derek Hatcher Foundation dedicated to raising awareness about opioid addiction. The group's annual fundraiser is in July. Find out more at this link.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, please consider seeking help. You can find useful information from River Region Human Services here in Jacksonville at this link.