When Henry Josey was slow to get up after being tackled late in the third quarter Saturday during Missouri’s 36-17 win over Florida, an eerie quiet enveloped the previously jubilant crowd of 67,129 at Memorial Stadium.
Josey, a junior running back from Angleton, Texas, missed nearly two years, including the entire 2012 season, after his knee was shredded during a victory against Texas on Nov. 12, 2011.
The sight of Josey once again sprawled out on the Faurot Field turf put a lump in the throat of every Missouri fan, along with Tigers coach Gary Pinkel.
“When he was holding his leg, I didn’t know what was going on, so I was just hoping and praying that he was OK,” Pinkel said. “… After the whole thing he went through for two years to get back, and all the sudden it gets tweaked like it hasn’t been since it was fixed, he was scared to death.”
Josey required multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a torn medial collateral ligament and a torn patellar tendon — and that was just to walk again much less resume his football career.
Doctors likened Josey’s injuries to those sustained in a severe car wreck more than a sports injury, so the crowd’s breathless reaction was understandable.
“Henry is soul of Mizzou,” senior wide receiver L’Damian Washington said after the game.
Josey said he was momentarily terrified.
“I got pretty much tackled the way I did when I got hurt, so that little feeling just rushed inside me,” he said.
Still, after that initial flush of panic subsided and Josey realized that his surgically repaired left knee remained intact, he wasn’t quite ready to pop back to his feet.
“I done it before, so I know the feeling and it didn’t feel like that,” Josey said. “I was a little scared and I just wanted to calm back down. That was the biggest thing — calming back down and then getting up after.”
He continued, “(There were) a lot of cuss words. I had my teammates staring over me and I was like, ‘Just get back. I’m all right.’ Then I probably cussed some more. I won’t say what I said, but I was just happy to get up from it.”
As Josey walked off the field under his own power, the Memorial Stadium crowd roared back to life.
“I heard it and I’ve heard about it,” Josey said. “That’s crazy, but I thank all my fans and everybody that supports me. That was really special for them to do that.”
With Marcus Murphy already sidelined after a blow to the head and Russell Hansbrough receiving treatment for a turf toe injury, Josey was the only running back who remained from the Tigers’ vaunted three-player rushing attack, which ranks 15th in the country with a 234.4-yard per game average.
The Gators closed within 23-17 on the drive after Josey was injured before he trotted back onto the field determined to help close out a win for the Tigers, who improved to 7-0 and debuted at No. 5 in the season’s first BCS standings.
“I knew I had to get up and get back out there to help my teammates finish off that game,” said Josey, who finished with 18 carries for 136 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run earlier in the third quarter.
On his first carry after returning, Josey gashed Florida for 50 yards and set up an Andrew Baggett field goal. Missouri’s was never threatened again.
“Every game that he plays is important to him,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “It’s just another healthy day and another healthy game. He’s just excited to be out there, and he’s just a great kid.”
The Tigers’ fans clearly feel the same way.