For Henry Josey, the worst part was the Biodex machine.
That was the apparatus which caused him so much pain, brought him to tears on more than one occasion and ultimately played a role in helping him get back on his feet.
“It was a machine you put your leg into and it’s just cranking your leg,” Josey said. “It’s cranking it back and forth. That was tearing down scar tissue. And then I had to get my knee to 120 degrees. I had to get my knee bent that far before I could have my next surgery. So there would be some tears on that machine. That was probably the worst part of it all.”
The Eagles signed Josey (5-8, 194) as an undrafted free agent earlier this month. Last year, the Missouri running back piled up 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He ran a 4.43 at the combine, the third-fastest time of all the running backs who competed. And now Josey will work all spring and summer in hopes of extending his career.
In many ways, simply landing on a 90-man roster is an accomplishment, considering what it took Josey to get here. In 2011, he was on a tear – 1,149 yards through nine games, averaging 8.6 YPC. But the day that changed everything was Saturday, Nov. 12. During a home game in Columbia, with Missouri up 17-3 against Texas, Josey got the ball on a 1st-and-10 play from the Tigers’ 13-yard-line.
“It was just a basic outside zone play,” he said. “I was running around the edge. …I had planted, and I tore my ACL. I kept running. I was going towards out of bounds and a guy just like pulls me from the back of my jersey. I end up sitting on my knee, and everything just fell apart.”
Lying on the ground at Faurot Field, all Josey could feel was anger.
“I was just more mad that it had happened,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t getting up from it. The pain really didn’t hit me until I went into the locker room and couldn’t do anything else for myself.
“As soon as it happened, that’s probably the scariest moment of your life because a lot of things are over.”
The damage was brutal – a torn ACL, MCL, patellar tendon and both his lateral and medial menisci.
Josey was a mess – physically and emotionally. But no one told him he’d never play football again. While comeback stories are often filled with tales of proving doubters wrong, Josey’s is different. All he heard was support from those around him, encouragement to put the work in and eventually get back on the field.
The Angleton, Texas native was raised by his grandparents from the time he was 6-months-old. When Josey was born, his Dad was still in school, and his parents needed some help. Thomas and Eula Josey, his grandparents, had done the same for others in the family. And so when their 20-year-old grandson felt like everything was falling apart, they were there once again to provide support.
“My grandpa is retired, but my grandma, she still works,” Josey explained. “She took off work and just sacrificed and came and stayed with me as long as I needed [her] to. I didn’t want her to go home. She stayed there with me and helped me out. And then once I got up out of bed and started throwing stuff around, she knew it was time for her to go. So they took off and went home.
“I had some amazing people behind me. That’s the main thing. I had the support. I never had anybody doubt me – like in my staff or around me. Everybody 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 underwent three different knee surgeries in a seven-month span. He often spent 12 hours at the rehab facility – working on the knee all morning, taking a lunch break, grabbing a nap and then moving forward with a second session. The physical pain was grueling, and the mental grind was taxing.
“Of course in the back of your mind you always have those worries like: ‘I’m putting in all this work. Am I gonna be able to get back on the field?’ ” Josey said. “I’d have a sense of doubt in the back of my mind.”
But the doubt never knocked him out. After missing the entire 2012 season, he returned to spring practice in 2013, not knowing if he would be the same player he was before the injury. If his teammates were nervous or apprehensive about Josey returning, they didn’t show it.
“First play I get out there, I got two guys take out my legs,” Josey said. “It was right off the start, got that over with, and I was like, ‘Alright, cool. It’s time to go now.’ It was nothing that scared me at all. I got up and laughed at them about it and told them, ‘Hey, make sure you don’t do that again.’ It was all good after that though.”
In his first game back against Murray State, Josey ran for 113 yards on 13 carries. And the numbers indicate he got stronger as the season went on. In Missouri’s final eight games – all against SEC opponents – he averaged 7.4 yards per carry. In the last three games against top-20 opponents Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma State, Josey piled up 311 yards on 34 carries (9.1 YPC average).
His grandparents were thrilled for him, but after witnessing what Josey had gone through to get back on the field, it was difficult for them to get past the natural worry – especially for Josey’s Grandpa.
“He didn’t come to any of my games this year,” Josey said. “Just seeing me in the position that I was in, he never wanted to see me like that again. So he would just stay at home and record them and watch them. …He lost a little love for the game just because what I’ve been through. It was that bad for him.”
There are obviously questions about whether Josey’s knee can hold up in the NFL. Twenty-two running backs were drafted, but he never heard his name called. Of course, given what he’s accomplished to get to this point, that doesn’t really upset Josey.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “I mean, I’ve always had to prove myself, so I don’t mind doing that again.”
This time around, if Josey makes the team and dresses on Sundays, he expects his grandparents to be in attendance.
“I don’t think they stop smiling when they see me,” he said. “They’re just so proud of me, how far I’ve come and people saying I couldn’t do what I’m doing now. They’ve raised me, so I’m like their son. Just to see their son being successful is a big thing. Me going this far in life and even further in my career. It’s just a blessing for me to be here, and it’s just a blessing for them to be able to share it with me.”
Below is an ESPN video feature on Josey.