After what Henry Josey has already come back from, the challenge of making his way in the NFL after going undrafted seems simple in comparison. The former Missouri standout joined the Eagles following the NFL Draft after an impressive final season for the Tigers that saw him run for 1,166 yards on a 6.7 yards-per-carry mark that placed him 17th in the country (Josey's fellow rookie free agent running back David Fluellen ranked 15th in yards per carry).
But Josey's journey to that impressive senior season was a victory in itself, after the catastrophic knee injury that wiped out his 2012 season. After all, in 2011, Josey led the entire country with 8.1 yards per carry.
That superlative season was ended prematurely in November against Texas, when the 5-foot-8, 194-pound speedster suffered one of the more brutal injuries in recent college football memory.
"It was a basic outside zone I was running," Josey recalled this week. "I was running and I planted, and on video the doctors showed me you could see that's when I tore my ACL. Then I kept running and a guy pulled me from the back of my jersey and I ended up sitting on my knee, like my leg. It was a horse collar tackle and that's basically how my knee feel apart.
"Right away I knew something was wrong. I had a big hole in the middle of my knee and I could see my knee-cap on the inside of my leg, so I knew something was wrong. I knew I wasn't getting up right then and there."
After Josey made his way to the locker room, the extensive damage to his knee was uncovered – a torn ACL, MCL, patellar tendon and his lateral and medial menisci. The road to recovery would be long – including three surgeries – but Josey rarely felt discouraged. For that, Josey credts his extensive support group.
"I had some amazing people behind me," Josey said, adding that his friends had his favorite McDonald's order ready for him the moment he returned to his room following the injury. "I had the support. I never had anybody doubt me, in my staff or around me. Everybody that was around me was somebody that was lifting me up or smiling with me or making me just be my stupid self all the time. I always had good people around me; that's what just kept me going throughout."
Josey's grandparents, who raised him from a very young age, were especially helpful. Josey's grandmother took time off work to support her grandson throughout the rehab process, while Josey's grandfather felt so close to Josey's pain that he refused to watch any of grandson's post-recovery games for fear of another injury.
To be sure, the road back to the field was strenuous.
"I would wake up, I didn't sleep much," Josey said of his rehab. "Sleeping was something that just wasn't possible, I probably slept two hours off and on, so I'd get like four hours of sleep throughout the day. I'd wake up early, get to the training room. It would be like 12-, almost 16-hour days in the training room. I'd be there from the morning, I'd eat lunch and take a nap there. Then I'd wake back up and start rehabbing again. I was there until they got out of practice every day, so it was like a job … I'd wake up and I'd begin with my small stuff in the morning, just getting my knee moving. Then we'd get into the tough stuff, where they have the passive stuff, bending my knee again. Then we have something called a BioDeck machine. I had to get my knee turned 120 degrees before I could have another surgery. So that was something I started doing to break down the scar tissue and also to get my knee moving past the point where I needed it to be … There were definitely some tears on that machine.
"The hardest thing I've probably ever been through in my life and that's the one thing why I say I can't be broken anymore. I can deal with any kind of adversity."
After all the rehab, all the pain, all the watching from the sidelines, all the tears, Josey returned to the field with his teammates last spring. On his first play in practice, he was tackled low by a pair of teammates.
"That was right off the start," Josey said. "I got that over with, and it was like, 'Cool, it's time to go now … I told them, 'Make sure you don't do that again.'"
Thanks in part to Josey's impressive bounceback season, Missouri exceeded all expectations by reaching the SEC Championship game. Fellow former Tigers Jeremy Maclin and Brad Smith have welcome Josey to Philadelphia, but the man whom Missouri die-hards came to call "the Outlaw" has his sights set on a higher goal than simply making the roster.
"I love this place," Josey said. "Family atmosphere is something I'm big on and I feel that same thing here.
"I'm in a good place and hopefully I'll stay here and this is also where I end my career. It would be a blessing to stay here, I love it. I feel like I'm at home already."
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