McGahee's college, pro career on hold
Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 11:15 p.m.
PHOENIX - Willis McGahee's professional career will have to wait.
Miami's All-American running back tore three ligaments in his left knee against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and will have reconstructive surgery, assistant coach Don Soldinger said Saturday.
The injury means McGahee, a sophomore who was expected to turn pro and was widely projected to be the first running back taken in April's NFL draft, returned to Miami and will try to recover in time for next season. It won't be easy.
He tore the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his knee early in the fourth quarter Friday night, Soldinger said. McGahee will have surgery Sunday, but rehabilitation could sideline him for all or part of next season.
Teammate Frank Gore tore two ligaments in his knee last March, began running five months later but still hasn't returned to full-contact practice. McGahee has nearly eight months before Miami's season opener at Louisiana Tech.
About 130 fans greeted about 20 Hurricanes as they arrived at the campus in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables on Saturday night. McGahee was among them, walking with crutches and smiling at fans screaming his name.
"He'll come back," Soldinger said. "He's that type of guy, a competitor, a hard-worker. I've seen it over and over again. If he stays positive and works hard - he's down in the dumps right now - he'll come back. He has an unbelievable work ethic combined with tremendous talent. You can't go wrong that way."
McGahee, a 6-foot-1, 224-pound Miami native, ran for a school-record 1,686 yards and 27 touchdowns this season and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, the Doak Walker Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year award.
Not bad for a guy who played fullback in the 2002 Rose Bowl and began spring practice behind Gore on the depth chart. He worked out every day this summer, sometimes pulling trucks with a harness, and became one of the strongest players on the team. It could help him during rehab.
McGahee injured his knee with 11:39 remaining in the fourth quarter, taking a screen pass from Ken Dorsey on third-and-10 from the Ohio State 35 and getting hit by Will Allen for a 2-yard loss. McGahee had to be helped from the field and was in severe pain for much of the night, coaches said.
"That's more tragic than losing the national title," offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. "That kid is so tough and meant so much to our team. To be so close to the end of the game. He was really starting to crank when he got hurt. Those things happen. He's got to be devastated. You just imagine what's going through his head."
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