THERE WERE 32 team doctors at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, and every one of them examined Henry Josey's left knee. Thirty-two times, Josey hopped up on a table and offered up his scars from three surgeries. At an average of 10 minutes per exam, Josey would have spent 5 hours and 20 minutes being twisted and prodded, without allowing for downtime between appointments. It was a long day.
"I came in, it felt like the place just shut down," Josey, a running back from Missouri, said yesterday at NovaCare, after finishing his organized team activity workout with the Eagles. "Every doctor would get up to check my knee out . . . They were surprised at how great my knee looked, how stable it was. How was I even able to do that? I got pats on the back, smiles. Every single team was there, and every single team looked at my knee."
Despite all the admiration for what Josey and his surgeon, Dr. Pat Smith, had accomplished, and the fact that his 4.43-second 40 ranked third among the running backs, none of those 32 teams called Josey's name during the 3 days of the NFL draft last month. Afterward, he signed with the Eagles as a free agent.
Josey, chiseled at 5-8, 194, said yesterday that going in, he hadn't really expected to be drafted, but teams kept calling him during the draft, raising his hopes. He said he was fine, ultimately, with trying to make it as an undrafted free agent. If there's one thing Henry Josey has learned, it's the value of patience and persistence.
"I'm always prepared," Josey said. "I'm in a great fit now."
On Nov. 12, 2011, Josey burst into the Texas secondary, showing the low-to-the-ground, quick-cut style that had observers comparing him to Darren Sproles. Josey was a sophomore who ranked fifth in the nation in rushing. A Longhorns defensive back, Carrington Byndom, reached out from behind and pulled Josey backward. Josey's left knee, stuck in the turf, basically imploded.
"This guy was going to be a starter here the next 3 years. I'm so excited," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel recalled in an interview with a St. Louis radio station last September, following Josey's triumphant return to the field. "This great, great running back. And then he had a knee injury that was just horrific. It was more like a car wreck."
A few days after the game, Smith, the Tigers' top team physician, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "It's a tragic fluke, a one-in-a-million type of injury, and, unfortunately, to a guy who is so gifted with speed and mobility and agility. You don't see this. In 26 years, I've never seen this."
Smith has said he was more concerned about making sure Josey would be able to walk again than getting him back onto a football field. Pain, Josey said yesterday, "didn't hit me until I almost got to the hospital. I was just mad about it - 'Why me?' I felt like I was living in a dream."
Josey had torn his ACL, his MCL, and his patellar tendon, along with meniscus and cartilage. There was nerve damage, though not as much as former Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver suffered in his career-ending 2010 injury.
A reporter asked Josey yesterday if he knew of any other players who had come back from such total knee devastation.
"I don't think anybody," Josey said. "I never would wish it on anybody, either, because it was mentally hard for me to get there. If somebody has gone through it, I pray for 'em, because it's something you shouldn't go through in all your life."
In the days after Josey was carted off the field, his grandparents, Eula and Thomas Josey, made the trek up from Texas to help him cope. The first surgery reconstructed the MCL and the patellar tendon, along with repairing the meniscus. The second was an arthroscopic "cleanout," Josey said, to get rid of stray fragments. The third repaired the ACL.
Josey eventually put in 14-to-16-hour days at a rehab facility, he said. Scar tissue had to be broken down. Flexibility had to be gained by painful degrees - painful for Josey and for the trainers who were helping him.
"Waking up every day, knowing that you're going to be in pain that day," Josey said, when asked what was hardest. "And that you're going to go through something that's possibly going to make you cry or make you want to give up. The can make you hate people . . . you can see the expression on their face, like, 'My gosh, we're putting him through this, but we have to do it.' I'd eat breakfast there, I'd eat lunch there, I'd even take a nap there during the day. They'd take me back and forth to my classes . . .
"I had a lot of time to think about my life in general, how I wanted to look at things," Josey recalled.
Josey watched the 2012 season from the sideline. Pinkel and Josey's teammates made sure he never felt abandoned, Josey said. The whole Missouri community stepped up.
"This is my guy, right here," Eagles wideout Jeremy Maclin said yesterday, interrupting the interview with Josey. "You ask him about when he got hurt, I reached out to him, let him know: 'Hey, man, you ever need anything, call me.' We kept in contact."
A few minutes later, another Missouri alum, Eagles wideout Brad Smith, stopped by to give a similar endorsement of Josey and to talk about the close relationship Josey enjoys with Pinkel. In an ESPN story on Josey's comeback, available on YouTube, Pinkel is shown awarding Josey the game ball from his first game back, last September's season-opening win over Murray State. Pinkel said it was the first individual game ball he has ever awarded.
Last season, as a redshirt junior, Josey ran for 1,166 yards on 174 carries, with 16 touchdowns, becoming just the second Mizzou player to rush for 1,000 yards twice in a career. He was offensive MVP of Missouri's Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State, scoring three touchdowns. When Josey decided to declare for the draft, Pinkel issued an effusive statement:
"Henry Josey is a first-class person any way you cut it, and any time you take that out of your program, it leaves a void," Pinkel said. "He is such an amazing competitor, and I've said time and again just how inspiring he has been for our team the last 2 years. We were so proud of him for overcoming everything he had to deal with, and to be such a positive influence on and off the field. We're going to miss him, no question, but Henry wants to pursue his dream of playing professionally, and we wish him nothing but the best and we'll do everything we can to help him reach that goal. The Mizzou football program is in better shape because of his efforts, so we're grateful for the time he spent with us, and we know he'll represent Mizzou well going forward."
Josey faces some obstacles with the Eagles. LeSean McCoy and Sproles certainly aren't going anywhere. The team likes third-year back Chris Polk, and last year's undrafted running back who made the roster, Matthew Tucker, offers something at 6-1, 227 that the team doesn't have elsewhere. Another overlooked running back from the 2014 draft class, David Fluellen, also is well-regarded.
Josey said he picked a team that had running backs he felt he could learn from, not a team that had an obvious vacancy.
Josey is accustomed to taking the long view.
On Twitter: @LesBowen