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COLUMBIA, Mo. – A hush fell over Missouri's Memorial Stadium with 5:17 remaining in the third quarter last Saturday. In an otherwise raucous 36-17 romp over Florida, all anyone suddenly cared about was Henry Josey's health.
The running back lay writhing on the ground, eerily reminiscent of when he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and patellar tendon two years ago. That led to a missed season and months of painstaking rehabilitation.
Josey knows how his original injury felt, and as trainers tended to him Saturday, he gradually realized this one wouldn't be as serious. The biggest challenge, he said, was getting over his initial shock and getting up to jog off the field — which he did.
"He was scared to death," coach Gary Pinkel said.
More than a few teammates and coaches felt the same way. The No. 5 Tigers (7-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) likely wouldn't be undefeated without Josey's team-leading 494 rushing yards. Missouri averages 234.4 yards rushing, good enough for second in the SEC.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior paces Missouri's trio of running backs, as sophomore Russell Hansbrough has 438 rushing yards and junior Marcus Murphy has 357. But Josey became the team's only option Saturday after injuries to Hansbrough (turf toe) and Murphy (concussion) earlier in the game, making the situation more tenuous.
All three are expected to play this week against No. 20 South Carolina (5-2, 3-2).
Josey's faith causes him not to worry about re-injuring his knee, though his latest scare was an "eye-opener." He only blames himself for what happened on Nov. 12, 2011, saying it was karma for having taken too much in life for granted.
"Personally, I learned a whole lot from my injury," he said. "And just the way I was going about things. And then how I was living life. (God) showed me what was important to me. And took it away from me. And now I have it back. I don't take anything for granted anymore."
Josey credits a healthy offensive line for his successful return, and in turn rewards them with ice cream during film sessions every Thursday. While he varies what he brings — sometimes Snickers-flavored treats and sometimes Oreo-flavored — the camaraderie is a sign of the team's cohesiveness after a difficult 5-7 season in 2012, the Tigers' first in the SEC.
"That can take a toll on anybody," Josey said. "But it took a toll on me, because I had to be there and also focus on rehab and then try to lift my teammates up. There's a lot of things that are different now."
Now he'll have to elude a battered Gamecocks defensive line that may be without junior tackle Kelcy Quarles, who sprained his right knee at Tennessee after getting four tackles (two for loss) and a sack. The front four will still be plenty stout and it still included standout end Jadeveon Clowney.
"The first half of the season, I don't think he was running 100 percent to where he was fully confident in his knee," receiver Marcus Lucas said of Josey. "But now that he knows that he can take on hits and take different cuts, I think you're going to start to see him excel."
Each week represents another step for Josey, who ran 50 yards on his first carry after the near-injury against Florida. He totaled 136 for the day against a defense that entered allowing only 83.3 per game.
"There's a mental part of me that was broken when I got hurt," he said. "So me being where I am now, I don't feel like anything else can break me. And I don't ever think about anything anymore. I just go do it."