Josey suffers serious injury, a risk every athlete takes every play, every game

Henry Josey cries out in pain after suffering a season-ending knee injury Saturday. (Photo by Sherman Fabes)

Henry’s gone. Yeah, it’s part of the game. But it still stinks.

When the book is closed on the 2011 football season here at ol’ Mizzou, there will be a lot of memorable story lines. The conference realignment. The continued development of James Franklin. The frustration of an inconsistent team that can beat Texas A&M, then lose to Baylor, then beat Texas. Games against a couple of very good teams from Oklahoma, one of which may well play for a national championship. Some ugly losses and some stirring wins, including today’s over Texas.

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Darren Hellwege, sports commentator

Unfortunately, what was one of the most compelling stories of the whole season slammed to a premature end with a little less than five minutes left of the third quarter of this game, when Henry Josey went down after being tackled by Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom—and stayed down. The cart came to carry him off Faurot Field for the last time this season. And in one of those little, yet very meaningful, acts that make me love college athletics, Texas coach Mack Brown jogged across the field to give a little encouragement to a sophomore from the other team he knew had just seen his season come to an end. He’s seen it before, serious injuries ending a player’s season. It’s part of the game.

I was on the sideline a few years ago when Pig Brown’s college career ended with an Achilles tendon injury. He passed just a few feet away, a towel covered his face but you could still hear him, sobbing in pain and sadness as he knew he was never going to wear that Tiger jersey again. I watched them take Dominique Hamilton off against Oklahoma last year. I saw Xavier Smith’s season end before it started in the last preseason scrimmage this year, just as last year I saw Munir Prince go down in that same final practice the year before.

As I talked with Tiger players in the locker room following this game, it was obviously an uncomfortable topic of conversation. “That’s our teammate, our brother,” Kendial Lawrence said. I asked Dan Hoch two different questions and he gave me nearly the same answer, obviously disturbed at the idea. It could happen to any player. It’s a frightening thing, for football players. They fear losing their ability to play the game they love, of being part of the team.

They fear the months of rehabilitation. They know there’s pain and hard work ahead if they come back.

But there’s something more, something too scary to even talk about, think about, whether you wear a football helmet on Friday nights, or Saturday afternoons, or even on Sundays. It happens sometimes: players have gone down playing football, never to walk again.

It’s part of the game.

And then, there are the worst cases of them all. The Korey Stringers. The J.V. Cains. And the one I’ll never, ever forget, Aaron O’Neal. I was at the practice where he collapsed. I’d seen guys collapse at conditioning drills all the time, I barely looked up when teammates carried him past me as I focused on the interview I was doing at the time with strength coach Pat Ivey.

Several hours later, I’d heard on the radio that Aaron had died at University Hospital. It was a shock I’ll never forget. I didn’t know him at all, but a young friend I look at like a son was a freshman on that same team, so I knew what that family must have been going through. His friends. And his teammates.

When Kendial Lawrence called Henry Josey his brother, it wasn’t just hyperbole. That’s really how close the guys on a football team, or a basketball team, or the women on a volleyball or soccer team, really do get.

So let us mourn for Henry Josey, and know how much pain, frustration, and hard work lie ahead for this Tiger running back. It’s a damn shame that his 2011 season, which was so spectacular and exciting for us all, came to an end Saturday.

But let’s also be so grateful that all Henry lost Saturday is part of his sophomore season. Chances are, we’ll see him back next year. Defensive coordinators in Knoxville and Athens are already sweating, trying to figure out how to stop number 20 for Mizzou.

Henry Josey lost something he’ll always regret missing today. But, we’ve seen players lose so much more on this field and fields across the country. It’s part of the game.

But so is the love of teammates like Kendial Lawrence and Dan Hoch, and the sportsmanship of good men like Mack Brown. That’s why Henry will go through the pain, the surgery and the months of difficult rehab. It’ll be worth it, it’s what he does.

Because Henry Josey’s a football player, and a Tiger. I’m already looking forward to seeing him back on the field in 2012. There’ll be something even more exciting about seeing his first touchdown run next year, because he’s had to work so hard to get back there. Like every sack for Dominique Hamilton. Overcoming those obstacles, fighting back from injury.

That’s part of the game, too.

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