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2014 NFL Draft: Henry Josey embraces adversity

Two years ago, it looked like Henry Josey might never play football again after suffering a "one in a million" injury to his left knee. Now, he's two months away from the NFL. The Mizzou running back talked to SB Nation about his journey.

Ronald Martinez

It wasn't so long ago that Henry Josey wondered if he'd ever play football again. In 2011, the talented Missouri running back was the team's offensive leader as a sophomore and one of the top backs in the nation. Unfortunately, his season was cut short on a horrific play in which he "planted wrong" and ended up tearing multiple ligaments and tendons. It took nearly 22 months for Josey to return.

Now on the edge of making his pro dreams come true, Josey is a different man. He's learned a lot about himself and the game he loves, and sometime during the three-day NFL Draft, he'll have his name called by a lucky team. Now alongside the talent, there is also adversity. It's been a hard-fought road to get here, but Josey is ready for this moment.

The NFL Combine has come and gone. How were your four days there?

It was real big for me. Waiting on it was the hardest thing. You're training your body the whole time for this one moment. I'm like, "C'mon already!" That was the biggest thing.

Does it feel unfair to place so much attention on this one drill or moment when you have years of game tape?

In a way. You'll probably never do these things again, but I'm just along for the ride. I gotta prepare for it. I gotta do it. So now it's finally here, so let's get it over with.

How did you feel about your performance?

Adversity is my friend, and I can persevere through anything

Aside from being so overwhelming and tiring, it was a great experience. It was a great process to go through. I had a lot of fun doing it. Now that it's over, I'm happy with my performance. That was the main thing. I just wanted to do well there and make sure that I was prepared. I've been prepared for a long time, so I just wanted to show that and that's exactly what I did.

Is that a good time to also get with other guys going through this exact same thing?

Oh, yeah. Our running group all bonded together. Everyone was motivated. It's a competition, but at the same time, we all were lifting each other up. There are so many other football players who could be there and didn't get the chance to go, so it was a big opportunity to just take control of that but also have fun with it.

You mentioned the fact that others could be there and they weren't. Your career has moved on, which is a great thing, but it also means the end of your career at Mizzou. How much have you processed that?

I think about it a little bit. At times it hurts a little bit. That was a big part of me. My teammates were my family. Family was preached to us every day, so we were really close. For us all to be taking off and going different directions is a crazy feeling. I look back at pictures and think, 'Man, it's over. I'm never going to play at Mizzou again.'

So it's a weird feeling, but at the same time, I'm happy that I learned some amazing things there. And I've been able to further my football career because I went to school there. I took advantage of the chances in front of me and I had great people behind me.

You brought up the family atmosphere there, which has come up quite a bit with Michael Sam coming out and the environment described at Missouri.

Yeah, it's a strong bond. It's not just us as a football team. It's the whole athletic program. We're all together. That's the big thing. That's something Mizzou did a great job of, just keeping us all together. Nobody is worried about who is getting this or who's getting that. It's a great family atmosphere.

How well do you remember the injury and the moments immediately thereafter?

Pretty well. [Laughs] Just looking at my knee, I knew it was pretty bad. I was pretty angry about it. I didn't feel any pain until we finally got to the hospital. The main thing was that my season was over, maybe even my career. There were all these things going through my head, but the main thing was being mad about it and all the people that I was letting down.

I've read where you said that playing in the NFL is a longtime dream for you.

Yeah, it's been since I was a little boy. Every little kid dreams of going to all these things that they hear about. Being able to the Combine was a big dream for me. It's something I watched and said, 'I wanna be there one day.' When you finally turn that dream into reality, well, it just still feels like a dream.

So when you're at that point of doubting wondering whether you will play again. Do you consider life after football?

I had to rely on people for a long time, so if anything, I had to focus on just doing something on my own. All I could control was my education. Once I couldn't focus on football, my grades went way up simply because that's all I could focus on. I realized I had to focus on my education to get a job instead of living this dream that I thought about. So I just tried to take control of that and stick with the books.

When Coach Pinkel hands you the game ball on your first game back from the injury, that had to be really special. What were you feeling there?

It was a big moment. Those guys were behind me. They knew all the things I went through just to be able to play that first game. Then for him to give me the game ball... I don't think it was something that was just for me. I think he did it for me but it was really about the relationship that we shared as a team. I didn't take the ball and take off. I sat there and realized that we were brothers now. We shared that moment together. So really he just brought the family closer together when he did that.

At what point do you soak in this season; from returning from injury to the incredible season that the team had and your own exclamation point of winning the Cotton Bowl offensive player of the game award? Does it start immediately after that game? Does it take some time?

Later on, I did, but honestly I'm not big on myself. I don't talk about myself or what I've done. I don't like reading articles. I've read one or two the whole time I've been at school. For me to think about how far I've come is the main thing.

So what have you learned about yourself in these last 12 months?

I know I'm strong. I've got a big heart. Adversity is my friend, and I can persevere through anything because of what I've been through. Relying on faith in God is the main thing that's pushed me so far. I just have to take things day by day. It's also knowing I have the patience to deal with things. Nothing just worries me to the point where I can't take it anymore.