"I've been coaching 35 years, and it's a team game, it's all team, we all know that," Pinkel began, stretching a football high in the air with his right hand. "But we have a teammate here who battled his self back. Nobody knows, except you guys, what he went through to do this. He had a lot of people helping….he's a hell a guy, I'm just so proud to give this to your teammate, Henry Josey!"
With that, the room exploded with a loud "heeeeey!" as teammates swarmed a grinning Josey, the football tucked under his arm. Pinkel said it was the first game ball he has ever given out — a special moment for a special person. Here Josey was, rushing for a team-high 113 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries against the Racers, when 22 months ago, in a game against Texas, he'd shredded his knee so badly many wondered whether he'd ever play again.
"His courage, his determination, his guts and heart and will to come back when so many people said he probably couldn't do it, it was great to see him do those things," Pinkel said.
"I didn’t realize," running back Russell Hansbrough said, "he had that much speed."
In his first game in nearly 22 months, Josey racked up 113 yards last night in Missouri’s 58-14 win over Murray State, providing the highlight for this storybook night with that 68-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Josey outraced defenders and roared into the end zone. What came next: a mob from his teammates and a rousing ovation from the home crowd.
Henry was back.
"I looked up and I thanked God," Josey said. "I was pretty much screaming at him. Hope he heard me."
The one answer nobody knew was this: Would Josey recover his burst? Could he outrun that angle? Consider that question answered. Just past the Murray State 15-yard line, Josey sprinted past that last defender and dove headlong into the end zone.
Ironically, the last defender fell by the wayside mere feet from the spot where Josey sprawled in agony, grabbing his knee 21 months before, a much more pressing question on everyone's mind: Will he ever play football again?
"I was thinking it looked like he just stomped on that spot. And just reclaimed it," said former teammate Will Ebner, who was on the sidelines at Josey's request. "That was moving to see."
"I didn't think about it at all," Josey said with a grin. "I was running for my life at that moment."
Could he play again? Josey had answered that question prior to Saturday. Sure, his teammates and coaches had said he was back. Yes, he had run for 49 yards on six carries in the Tigers' final fall scrimmage. But to be back--really back--the fans needed the proof of a game. Josey's first 12 carries for 45 yards provided an answer. The last one, the 68-yard touchdown, was an exclamation point.
Missouri senior lineman Max Copeland experienced the sensation midway through Saturday’s third quarter. Only this time the play kept getting better. […]
"You’re blocking, you’re blocking, you’re blocking. All of a sudden you feel the pressure release off the defensive lineman. That’s what tells you the back has broken it. Then you look downfield and see it’s him and it’s incredible," Copeland said. "He didn’t have that given to him. He’s back because he earned it." […]
"This is family here," Josey said. "I don’t think any team around the country is as close as we are."
"There is a little nervousness about getting back out there, wondering if you can actually do it again," Josey said.
A football game is a series of small stories. Saturday night was no exception. The 58,038 who sweltered in their seats while watching the Tigers play FCS bottom dweller Murray State saw an embattled quarterback make a statement (James Franklin completed 20 of 29 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown, distributing the ball to his stable of receivers as well as anyone could ask) and defense make a stand (the Tigers were thumped for 14 points and 196 total yards in the first quarter, but held the Racers scoreless through the final three). But those stories will fade away.