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August 6, 2013

An Inspired Recovery



James Franklin grabs his friend as he tosses his cell phone to assistant coach Pat Washington. Franklin lines the friend up a couple yards to his left in the middle of Faurot Field. Both bend their knees, assuming stances similar to the ones they will when Missouri takes its first offensive snap against Murray State in just more than three weeks.

The coach snaps a photo of the quarterback and his running back standing on the field where they were once great...the field where they hope to be great again.

There was a time many weren't sure if they'd ever see Henry Josey wearing No. 20 and standing next to James Franklin again.

"Early. Early," Mizzou running backs coach Brian Jones said. "Especially the first few weeks after the whole incident happened."

"Quite frankly, I didn't know," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "I think when you look at that injury, I hate to say this, but it was a car wreck. Car wrecks, things happen that don't normally happen.

"That doesn't happen to football players, those kind of knee injuries. You hear that and I know he's working his tail off to get back, but in the back of my mind, I'm wondering. I'm wondering, is he gonna be able to do it?"

Next Monday will mark 22 months since Henry Josey tore up his knee near the East sideline of Faurot Field early in a 17-5 win over Texas. Josey was leading the Big 12 in rushing at the time and was near the top of the charts nationally. He has not played in a game since. That he is back is shocking to some and not even surprising to others. Josey has been inspiring and inspired. He is 25 days from returning to the Missouri backfield.



While his teammates struggled through a 5-and-7 season, Josey struggled on his own. He saw Mizzou's head athletic trainer Rex Sharp every day. He walked. Then he jogged. Then he ran. He largely avoided interviews, toiling in obscurity while his teammates' nightmare season played out in the public.

"I know he's a hard worker," Mizzou sophomore running back Russell Hansbrough said. "Every time he wasn't practicing he was running up these stairs trying to get better, sweating, busting his ass trying to get back out here."



"I knew the fight in him. We came in together," said backfield mate Marcus Murphy, a fellow Texan and member of the same recruiting class as Josey. "He's always had that fight, that spirit. I knew that he would eventually make his way back here."

"I know it's been really tough for him but he's kept a real positive attitude," Franklin said. "When I was frustrated and down and everything, he would be motivating me when he was going through rehab and recovery and everything. While he was having to deal with that, he was an encouragement to me. I never saw him really frustrated or anything. He was always helping me out and I appreciate that even when he was injured, he put that aside to help me."

"I just love the kid. Everybody loves him," Pinkel said. "You talk about inspiration. You talk about a guy that is leading by example. You talk about a guy that if you're going through some tough times, you point to that guy and say, 'Hold on there. Go talk to him. He'll tell you what tough times are about.'"



Josey inspired his teammates. But while he was straining in the training room, while he was running steps, while he was out of action, Henry Josey's inspiration was nearly a thousand miles away in Texas.

"Found out I was having a kid my first game here," Josey said. "I was like, 'Oh, man.' Big game, I'm having a kid. At the moment, it was just like an anxiety feeling. I was stressing out about it."

Josey had one carry for ten yards in that game against Illinois, the 2010 season opener, just hours after finding out he would be a father at the age of 18.

"I do remember it," Murphy said. "He found out and I don't know how he really felt about it. We just tried to keep him up and be there for him. I was like a brother to him so I just tried to pick him up any way I could."


By the time most of Josey's teammates found out, they recall him being happy and excited.

"I didn't know till a few months later, but I remember he was real excited," Franklin said. "I thought that was really cool to see the excitement that he had on his face and the joy that it brought him."

And now? With Henry Marquis Josey, Jr. having celebrated his second birthday?

"One of the most important things to me in my life. My kid picks me up," Josey said. "He teaches me about things I thought I knew about already. It's crazy how young he is but he shows me so many different ways to look at life just by looking at him and helping him and raising him the best way I can.

"It's just crazy the feelings you get from having a kid. How much he can teach you when he's only two years old."


Josey said he and Henry Jr.'s mom are "like best friends. It's good to have a good relationship with his mom. It's for him. I don't have time for drama. That's crazy. People that go through that? It's for the kid in the end. As long as he's happy, we're happy."


So it was that mom and dad agreed to let Junior spend a month in Columbia with his dad. When Josey returned to school for summer workouts, he brought his son with him for the month. They stayed together in Josey's house in Columbia.

"Football is always important to me but I try to balance it out. I love the game, it's a big part of me. I love my son," Josey said. "I try to show him my love for the game and also my love for him at the same time. That's why I brought him up here this month so he could actually see what I'm doing when I'm away from home and actually understand what I'm doing."

Henry Junior came to some of the team's workouts. He went to dinner at running back coach Brian Jones' house with the rest of the backs.


"I'd go up to talk to him and his son, I'd be like, 'What's up little Henry?'" Franklin said, his voicing hitting a semi-falsetto often used to communicate with toddlers. "He'd kind of look at me and then Henry said, 'Oh, he's cool, don't worry about it.' He'd give me like a high five or something like that."

"He seems like a fun kid," Murphy said. "He was running around and it was fun to see him around and get a chance to meet him."

"He loves throwing the football," Josey said. "He'd come out of nowhere, sometimes I'll be sitting watching TV or something and he throws the football and hits me in the head. He thinks it's funny."

For Josey, it was a chance to show his son what dad does. For his teammates, it was an opportunity to see a different side of one of their leaders...except that side really wasn't any different at all.

"It's no difference at all," Hansbrough said. "He's just like a little kid sometimes. It's all just fun and games."

"Same guy," Franklin said. "He's still goofy and funny and laughing. Same guy."




Except Henry Josey isn't the same guy. First of all, he's now Henry Josey, Sr. Gaining a son he loves and losing the game he loves has changed him.

"Oh, man. I thought I was grown," Josey said. "But it has taught me a lot. I grew up faster than I had to and then even faster when I had him. I had a different responsibility on my hands and I had to take a lot of things a lot more serious. Make right decisions, stop doing this, stop doing that because everything I do he's looking at me."

"He's just a great person and that has a lot to do with him being able to deal with the things he's had to deal with," Pinkel said. "I think that you mature through adversity. Everybody does. No matter who it is or what field you're in. He had adversity beyond adversity."



Murphy says Josey has always been the "father figure" among Missouri's running backs.

"I always say he is like an old soul," Hansbrough said. "He acts pretty much like an old man."

Even more so now that he actually is someone's old man.


"The importance of waking up every day and making somebody happy. The importance of having to take care of somebody else before you take care of yourself," Josey said when asked what lessons Henry Jr. has taught him. "He's taught me a great deal of things about love. I didn't know I could love like I love him."



Josey, Jr. inspired Josey, Sr. And in turn, Josey, Sr. inspired thousands. He doesn't even know most of them. The day before camp started, the redshirt junior running back took out a box of letters. The box is filled with notes of encouragement he received from fans across the country. He says there are more than a thousand.

"Everywhere. Fans that I had no clue about," Josey said. "It's crazy. I had no clue about these people. They're sending letters and I'm like, 'Okay, Pennsylvania? And he's a Mizzou fan?' It's awesome how widespread our fans are and we don't even know about it."

Most are Missouri fans. But rooting for Henry Josey does not require that you are a Missouri fan. These days, it seems, everyone is rooting for Henry Josey.

"I think it's his personality. He's really, he's nice to everybody, he has a pretty funny personality. He's really outgoing and he's just a nice guy," Franklin said. "I think that really draws in and attracts people to turn them to be maybe not a Missouri fan, but a Henry Josey fan."


"I know I have a lot of people that have heard my story and see it as such a big thing. They see it as encouragement," Josey said. "I'm just trying to be that example now. I know I have more of a responsibility than just showing them that I can come back and play football. It's a great blessing to be where I'm at right now."

A blessing? His knee was shredded. He has not played a game in 20 months. His team struggled and his coach has come under fire. And he says it's a blessing. How do you not root for that?

"They just gravitate to that," Pinkel said. "You hear the story of what he had to overcome. I think everybody's rooting for him. The first time he runs the ball here, you know, they'll be going crazy I think.

"I just want the story to be a Cinderella story," the coach continued. "And there's no reason it can't."




That first carry should happen early in Missouri's season opener against Murray State. Josey has not only returned to Missouri's roster, but also to the top of the depth chart, to the same perch he occupied during a 2011 season that saw him gain 1,168 yards while starting only eight games.

Early on the evening of August 31st, Henry Josey will carry the football in a game for the first time in 690 days. The roar will be deafening, no matter the result. Somewhere in the midst of some 68,000 cheers, the tiny hands of a two-year old may applaud without even really knowing why.

"This will be his first year coming to a game," Josey said of Henry, Jr. "He'll be at my first game and I'm pretty sure he'll be at a lot more.


"He'll have a shirt with my name on it. I'm his dad. He's my number one fan."

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