It was nothing more than a simple tackling drill, but to Missouri running back Henry Josey, it meant everything.
A year and half removed from a devastating knee injury that required three separate surgeries, Josey was back in pads looking to hit someone on the first day of spring practice contact.
Josey swiftly maneuvered his way by a defender, causing him to laugh through his face mask, but as he chuckled past his embarrassed teammate, he suddenly felt the jolt from another defender undercutting him.
Josey picked himself up, dusted off, looked at his teammate and laughed some more.
It was exactly what he wanted.
“I was looking for the contact the first day we got to hit each other and I wanted to get it over with,” said Josey, who hadn’t been hit since his injury against Texas in mid-November of 2011.
Just to refresh you on Josey’s setback, his surgeries were performed to repair his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), meniscus and patellar tendon. He also had an arthroscopic cleanup.
Josey said there wasn’t much immediate shock when his injury occurred and emotional pain didn’t set in until he found out he had a smorgasbord of injuries to deal with inside his left knee.
“I was more pissed off about it than anything,” he said. “It didn’t really hit me until I got to the hospital that I was actually hurt and my season was over with. It took a big toll on me when it happened and I was hoping I could get back up from it, but I couldn’t.”
The severity of Josey’s injury caused early retirement talk with so much damage and so many surgeries. Josey said he tried to stay positive, but there were moments during his long rehab in which he wanted to quit. The excruciating pain made him wonder if it was all worth it.
“I thought about giving up a lot,” he said with a laugh.
Josey laughed because he finally understood that every stretch, twist and bend his knee underwent in the last year was worth tasting that first hit in March. He dreaded the 30 minutes he spent each day for about a month having his knee bent and stretched to a certain degree on a Biodex machine.
Then there was the helpless feeling with everyday chores. Family members drove 14 hours to assist him and his roommate, former linebacker Will Ebner, had to feed him sometimes. He even had to help him shower at first.
“That’s how weird it got,” Josey said.
But through all the awkward and almost pity-filled moments, Josey said he could see hope in a return to the football field.
That’s what kept him going.
Josey didn’t have a timetable for his return, but he was sprinting and cutting last fall. While he tried to get back into running shape, he watched his teammates stumble through a 5-7 year in their first season in the SEC.
Sometimes it hurt more to watch and not contribute than the actual knee pain.
“It was really tough for me,” he said. “You wanted to help your team out and try to keep picking them up, even though you’re not able to play. It was a big toll on myself watching them play by themselves without me.”
But his teammates aren’t without him anymore. Josey surged back this spring and mimicked his old playmaking ways at times. Josey was the Big 12’s top running back before his injury (1,168 yards and nine touchdowns on 145 carries) and he feels he’s getting back to that level. He slashed, he was a home-run threat and he could pound the ball when needed.
Josey was exactly what Missouri’s tattered 2012 offense needed, but all he could do was sit and watch. This fall, people will be sitting and watching him, and Josey hopes his solid spring carries over to the fall.
“I did exactly what I wanted to [this spring],” he said.
“I’m really proud of myself and I give God all the glory for being able to be back out here and doing what I’m doing again. I’m 100 percent now and I have nothing to worry about anymore.”