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COLUMBIA, Mo. – A little more than two years ago, Henry Josey ripped his left knee to shreds making a cut. He tore the ACL, MCL and patellar tendon on a 2-yard gain against Texas at home, an injury so extensive Missouri coach Gary Pinkel thought it looked like his star tailback had been in an automobile accident.
It was serious enough that Texas coach Mack Brown crossed the field at a hushed Faurot Field to have a look.
In the SEC championship game on Saturday, No. 3 Auburn will see a player who's made it all the way back.
Coaches and teammates couldn't have been more pleased that the 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior got a chance to really stretch his legs on the go-ahead touchdown late in the victory over Texas A&M that wrapped up the SEC East.
"You saw Henry, when he got that one hole how fast he took off," center Evan Boehm said. "And that's something special to see. What better person to get that than Henry?"
Josey is a cinch for a second 1,000-yard season in two years starting for the fifth-ranked Tigers (11-1, 7-1), needing just 50 yards with two games remaining. He's busted four 50-yard-plus gains this season, serving notice with a 68-yard TD in the opener and scoring on an 86-yard run at Kentucky.
He has eight runs of 20 yards or longer and is averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Though it's down from a scintillating 8.1-yard average in 2011, Josey believes he's a better back now.
"I hope I'm better than I used to be," Josey said.
"I think so," he said.
There's no doubt he's an inspirational presence, what Pinkel refers to as "untouchable."
"You don't say a bad word about Henry Josey," Pinkel adds, "no matter what."
Josey was all-Big 12 as a sophomore with 1,168 yards despite missing the last three games with an injury that required multiple operations. He spent all of 2012 rehabbing.
"We saw it every day, just tirelessly working, and coming back mentally, too," guard Max Copeland said. "You've got to be a special dude to come back from something like that mentally."
Missouri has been careful not to overload Josey his first season back, plus there's plenty of depth. Sophomore Russell Hansbrough (624 yards, 6.3-yard average, four TDs) and junior Marcus Murphy (561, 6.9, nine TDs) are speedsters, and quarterback James Franklin (412, 4.5, three TDs) is a shifty threat.
"Sometimes we don't even block the right guys and he still scores," right guard Conner McGovern said of Murphy. "That's why we call him 'Magic Murph.' But we definitely take a little extra pride with Henry, with what he's been through and how he's sacrificed."
That balance definitely has Auburn's attention.
"You can pull out the sheets and look," Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "They're right up at the top in total offense, rushing and passing."
Running backs coach Brian Jones said he's made it a point to keep Josey fresh for "crunch time" like the third-and-1 play that produced the winning score against Texas A&M.
"He's sitting on the bench; at times he's all by himself," Jones said. "He's very aware of what's going on, very aware of the situation."
On the deciding play, McGovern and center Mitch Morse opened big holes. Wide receiver Jimmie Hunt contributed, too.
"All three of those guys had great blocks on that play, and Henry finished it off," offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. "It's always great when you see a guy return from an injury like he had and have the success he's had. It just makes you feel good."