COLUMBIA, Mo. - Missouri running back Henry Josey is back. And he doesn't care who knows it.
So excited to get back into game action, Josey shaved "I'm Back" into the back of his head for the beginning of fall camp earlier this month.
"I just wanted to do something to spice my teammates up for two-a-days," the junior said. "I thought "What crazy thing can I do?' So I just put "I'm Back' in my head. We came back, they're loving it, everybody's talking about it."
But having a saying shaved on his head may have been one of the easiest things he had to do in the last 21 months.Â
When he last stepped on the field for a game it was Nov. 12, 2011, against Texas. He was the Big 12's leading rusher and was on his way to an all-conference season. He was a budding star with the fifth-highest rushing total in the country at more than 1,600 yards. He was explosive, averaging more than 8 yards per carry.
When he crumpled to the turf of Faurot Field that fall afternoon with a destructive knee injury, everything changed.
"Quite frankly I didn't know," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said about how Josey would be post knee injury. "We've talked about this before. It was not a normal athletic injury. It wasn't something that happened in a car accident or anything like that.
"My big thing first of all is just his health. Can he walk normal for the rest of his life? Then it's can he play and compete? To get him back just on the team would have been great."
Former Missouri players such as offensive lineman Elvis Fisher and receivers Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander have dealt with knee injuries in the past, but none this severe.
The future was uncertain for Josey. He had surgery to repair his patellar tendon, meniscus, MCL and ACL.
Pinkel recalled spending "seven or eight days" at the hospital with Josey, going through the emotions of the injury with him.
"Every step was tougher than the next," Josey said. "You have to take it day-by-day and you have to have the right amount of focus just to get through the next thing. Just waking up the next morning and doing it all over again was the hardest thing to do."
The timing of the injury was particularly frustrating for Josey. Since it came near the end of the 2011 season, he missed the entire 2012 season along with two full spring practices.Â
"I remember last year during the season, during practice, I forget which week it was, and all of a sudden I saw him sprinting, running about three- quarters speed the length of the field by himself and I was just ... I had tears in my eyes to think where he was, how he got there," Pinkel said.
He added: "I just want the story to be a Cinderella story. And there's no reason why it can't. He looks like the same old guy, but remarkable determination."
Josey hopes he can be "the same old guy." He hasn't appeared to be slowed down in camp. He missed one day with a hamstring injury that wasn't related to his knee injury, and has participated in all three scrimmages during camp.
Only time will tell if Josey can be the big-play back he was in 2011 when he seemingly came from nowhere to grab the starting position. An encouraging sign came Thursday when he averaged more than 8 yards per carry during the team's final scrimmage of camp.
"We're excited about it to see what he can do this year," Missouri quarterback James Franklin said.
For Josey, Missouri's opener Saturday against Murray State can't get here soon enough.
"Emotion will probably be one of the biggest things for me that I have to control throughout the game," Josey said. "I can't wait for that moment. I'm very excited for it."