COLUMBIA — The questions never stop coming for Henry Josey. It’s been nearly 17 months since he suffered a traumatic knee injury that threatened to end his playing career, and people still can’t help themselves.
How did it feel then? How does the knee feel now? Why aren’t you wearing a brace?
Josey, who spent the entire 2012 season conquering a trying rehab process that has tested his mental and physical limits, has grown weary of the latter question. Josey, a junior running back, figures that with all he’s been through, it must be part of some divine plan, anyway.
“If I’m going to get hurt, I’m going to get hurt,” Josey said. “The brace isn’t going to stop me from getting hurt. When people ask me that question, I just look up at God like, ‘He’s got me.’ I wouldn’t be back out here for no reason, so why would I put a brace on?”
By all accounts, Josey has inspired and surprised coaches and teammates alike with the progress he’s made since he tore the MCL, ACL and patellar tendon in his left knee against Texas in November 2011. And after a year-long wait, he finally got a chance to show his stuff in Missouri’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, as he gained 28 yards on eight carries.
But the scrimmage — a full-contact affair which the defense won 24-10 — was not about stats or even the final score, at least for Josey. It was about regaining his mojo.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of Josey’s recovery. “But he’s really close.”
To what? According to Pinkel — who says Josey recently ran a 4.4 40-yard dash — the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder from Angleton, Tex., isn’t that far away from resembling the back that took Columbia by storm in 2011, when he came off the bench to rush for 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns on 145 carries (a ridiculous average of 8.1 yards per rush).
“By the season, I would expect him to be (back to normal), based on what I see now,” Pinkel said.
He showed flashes of it on Saturday. His trademark burst shone through on his first carry of the day, a 15-yard run that drew yells from his teammates. He also showed agility, stopping and starting and cutting off the knee with little hesitation. And he showed the ability to take a hit, repeatedly popping up off the ground after.
“It was like old times,” Josey said afterward. “I’ve been waiting for this moment.”
So has Pinkel, whose affection for Josey becomes evident whenever someone brings up the back’s arduous journey back to the field.
“He’s just a really special person,” Pinkel said of Josey. “The stories of (linebacker) Will Ebner sleeping in the hospital with him for three straight weeks every night, putting sugar or salt on his food and putting milk in his cereal … then the multiple surgeries — (it) was as bad an injury as you can have. But his attitude has been remarkable.”
Josey remembers sleeping only two hours in the 24 hours after he got hurt, the pain of the injury and the nagging question of why it happened to him almost too much to bear. He often wondered if he’d ever play football again, let alone return to being the player he once was.
“They were telling me I was going to play again, but that was the last thing on my mind,” said Josey, who had his doubts. “I just felt like I was in a dream. I found myself asking why.
“You always ask yourself — why? Why? Why me?” Josey said.
But Josey credits his teammates and coaching staff — particularly team physician Pat Smith and trainer Rex Sharp — for helping him overcome those negative thoughts.
“It took me a while to get out of that state of mind,” Josey said. “I had a lot of support … it took me a while to get up on my own and actually do something for myself. But once I did that a couple months after, I finally started dealing with the rehab. So I’m here now, and I’m blessed to be here.”
He’s back, he says, a changed man, one who has since learned to rely on his faith and trust in God.
“What I went through is a big lesson for me about taking a lot of things for granted,” Josey said. “That fast, He can take it from you. He took it from me that fast, and I didn’t know how I was going to live without (football). (But) just believing in God like I needed to and showing how I’m in love with Him and my faith, that just brought it all back and made things easier.”
This revelation has also come with another; an answer to the question why the injury happened to him in the first place. To inspire others, including Pinkel.
“Coming back from something so bad, that’s negative, that’s a positive now … it’s an inspiration for a lot of people, not just him,” Josey said of Pinkel.
But make no mistake about it. Josey is grateful to be back for himself. So grateful, in fact, that he jokes he doesn’t complain about anything anymore. And whenever a notable athlete — such as South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore or Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware — suffers a knee injury, he feels for them, because he knows how it feels, and he knows the journey back isn’t an easy one.
Thing is, Josey’s isn’t done yet. There will be plenty more work to put in, plenty more questions about the state of his knee. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t rooting for him.
“It’s a great story,” Pinkel said. “And by the end of next season, I want it to be a remarkable story.”
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