By The Associated Press
Henry Josey busts through a hole in the Iowa State line in this Oct. 15, 2011 photo. He sustained a season-ending injury a month later. Photo by Karen Mitchell.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Henry Josey doesn’t know what to expect when he trots onto Faurot Field on Saturday.
There will likely be the familiar feelings of joy and nervousness that typically accompany the start of a new season. But there may also be some tears, though the Missouri running back says he’ll do his best to hide them.
Josey will be playing in his first game in nearly two years after being sidelined since Nov. 12, 2011, when he sustained a gruesome injury that tore his left anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and patellar tendon.
“A blessing,” he said about his return. “A very crazy blessing.”
Tens of thousands — including his 2-year-old son, Henry Jr., for the first time — will cheer him on, but Josey says the key to keeping his emotions in check is staying within himself. He talks to himself daily, offering reminders to focus on the task at hand. After more than a year of painstaking rehabilitation, it’s some of the best therapy he has. Simply running out of the locker room pales in comparison to the surgeries.
“The first time he runs the ball in the game, it certainly will be a moment we’ve all been waiting for,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
Whatever happens, Josey says he won’t be worrying about his knee. He can’t if he wants to replicate his all-Big 12 season in 2011. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior from Angleton, Texas, relied on misdirection and raw speed to amass 1,168 yards, good for third in the conference despite only playing in 10 games. His 8.1 yards per carry ranked first.
Those numbers have coaches hopeful after Missouri’s rushing output dropped last year, its first in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers finished tied for 12th in the conference with 138.5 yards per game on the ground, and tied for last at 3.7 yards per carry. With Josey the year before, the team finished first in the Big 12 with 244 rushing yards per game and 5.4 yards per attempt.
Josey will start the season against Murray State atop the depth chart, unlike two years ago when injuries to the two players ahead of him forced him onto the stage. He earned the spot during spring camp in April.
“You have the same pressure on you” as a starter, Josey said. “I have two great guys behind me who can also do the same thing and I’ve got to make sure I start the day off right for them.”
Those two guys are sophomore Russell Hansbrough and junior Marcus Murphy, who both have the ability to provide a bit of pop themselves. Both are 5-foot-9, 185-pounds and backed up 1,025-yard rusher Kendial Lawrence, who graduated. The duo combined for only 83 carries for 390 yards, though Murphy did return three punts and a kickoff for touchdowns.
The threesome’s lack of size could leave the Tigers vulnerable in short-yardage situations in the SEC, but junior Greg White (6-foot-1, 215-pounds) and 215-pound freshman Morgan Steward are available for some added brawn.
Whoever’s in the backfield, he’ll benefit from a healthy offensive line in front of him and a healthy James Franklin next to him. Injuries to both the line and Franklin limited Missouri’s offense and made the team a bit “gun-shy” during its 5-7 season in 2012, according to quarterbacks coach Andy Hill.
Now fully healthy, the Tigers are ready to move on from their first-year struggles in their new conference, just as Josey is with his injuries.
“I’ve been excited for a long time for this moment to come,” Josey said. “And then finally it’s here. I just can’t wait for it to start.”