Junior running back Henry Josey can play.
Josey’s skill has never seriously been up for debate among Missouri fans. In his first collegiate home game, Josey rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns. In 2011, Josey rushed for 1,168 yards in nine and a half games, averaging 8.1 yards per carry, the most for any Tiger with a minimum of 100 rushes in a season.
But his record-breaking season quickly ended in a single play in the third quarter of Missouri’s win against Texas on Nov. 12, 2011 at Faurot Field.
“I got to the sideline where I was, supposedly, going to go out of bounds … ,” Josey said. “When I planted, my ACL had torn. I didn’t know that, and when I kept running, a guy pulled me back, and I fell back with my leg up underneath and tore everything else.”
Everything else turned out to be his patellar tendon and medial cruciate ligament in his left knee. That week, team physician Pat Smith told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it was a “one-in-a-million” type of injury. Josey missed the remainder of the 2011 season and all of the 2012 season. During that time, Josey not only went to rehabilitation for his knee but also learned a few things about family, faith and football.
“Same football player, just with a different attitude,” Josey said. “Football was all I cared about. That was my main focus, and then I didn’t have it, so I had to find other ways to cope with things. I had to have patience; I didn’t have patience (before). I built relationships. I’m stronger with my relationship with God, with being with a girl. There’s a lot of things that have changed about me, just through my injury.”
Others have taken notice. Coach Gary Pinkel said the injury helped improve Josey’s maturity.
“He looks as normal to me as what he did before,” Pinkel said. “Obviously, he’s much more mature mentally and tougher because of all he’s gone through. He was forced to, but he’s doing a real good job.”
Another part of Josey’s life that helped streamline some of those changes is his two-year-old son, Henry Jr.
“I know I’m his biggest role model, and I also want to be a great example for him in life, so he encouraged me a whole lot throughout the process,” Josey said.
Henry Jr. also kept Josey positive when it seemed impossible.
“He kept me smiling,” Josey said. “There were times when I would go home, and he could look at me and tell that I wasn’t happy with the situation I was in or with my life. And he would just do something crazy where I would have no choice but to laugh at him.”
The laughs were needed. Josey said there were days when he cried in the training room. He spent more than a year struggling to get back to his 2011 form, a season in which he was named a semifinalist for the prestigious Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back.
“(It was) probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Josey said. “Every day you’d come in with the mindset of either you’re going to lose or you’re going to win, and I was coming in trying to win each day.”
While off the playing field, Josey worked his mind along with his body. He said he used the different perspective to learn more about reading defenses, using that knowledge to improve his lane choice, route running and blocking.
“You learn a lot more from watching than you do just out there being on the field,” Josey said.
In 2011, Missouri averaged 244 rushing yards per game. A year later, it put up an average of 138.5 yards per game, while averaging eight fewer rushing attempts per game. Josey said he would be willing to turn the Tigers back into a team that puts up 200 yards on the ground if that is what was asked of him.
“Definitely,” Josey said. “I’m ready to play, and if that’s what’s required, then, yeah, I’m more than happy to do that, and I’m willing to do that for my teammates.”
Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson said the run-to-pass ratio depends more on what the defense is doing than anything else. He said Josey would get the bulk of the rushes from day one.
“He’s ready to go,” Henson said after Missouri’s final preseason scrimmage. “We haven’t really leaned on him, we just pumped the ball to him in a scrimmage, so we’ll see how he does, but I think he got a few more carries today, and so he looks good. He’s doing well.”
Josey’s been ready to go all month. On the second day of camp, Josey said he was joyful to be where he was, back on the field. After the final scrimmage last week, Josey reflected on camp after missing a full season.
“There wasn’t a day I wasn’t happy just to be out here and being able to play football again,” he said.
Come Saturday against Murray State, as questions swirl about the offensive line, the play calling and everything in between, there will be no question as to Josey’s health status. Finally, after a year, one thing is for certain.
Henry Josey can play.