Injured McGahee leaving


Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 11:22 p.m.

MIAMI (AP) - Willis McGahee can expect many doctors' visits in the next three months. And most of them won't be with his own physician.

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Miami running back Willis McGahee (2) runs in for a touchdown after breaking away from Virginia Tech's line backer Vargas Robinson (6) in December. McGahee and wide receiver Andre Johnson will leave school early to enter the NFL draft.

The Associated Press

In a move rarely seen in college football, the sophomore running back decided to forgo his final two seasons of eligibility at Miami and enter the NFL draft despite sustaining a career-threatening knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl.

Receiver Andre Johnson also is leaving school early and is projected to be a first-round draft pick. McGahee's draft status is much more complicated, though. He probably will be examined by nearly every NFL team between now and April's draft -- and the results could determine how high he gets selected.

"Everybody's going to be very anxious to see what kind of repair they get on that knee between now and April 25," former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt said Tuesday. "There's either going to be a lot of doctors flying to Miami or McGahee's going to be flying to a lot of places. If he's healthy then he's a very, very good player. If he's not healthy, then there's the question of taking a chance.

"A lot of teams' philosophy is that if you have an extra draft pick in maybe the second or third round, then you can take a chance on someone with that pick. It's a risk, but it's also a reward because it was a lot better player than you would have got at that time."

McGahee tore two ligaments in his left knee in the fourth quarter of Miami's 31-24 double overtime loss to Ohio State on Jan. 3. The injury appeared gruesome, and team officials initially feared McGahee might have torn three ligaments and done significant damage to the area that delivers blood to the region -- making a full recovery improbable.

But following surgery last week, doctors were optimistic McGahee would be able to play again, maybe even this fall. So with that information, McGahee opted to turn pro, start rehabilitating the knee with an NFL team with and begin recouping some of the millions he lost because of the injury.

"I don't think he'll ever make up the signing bonus that he would have gotten," said Brandt, adding that McGahee was considered a top-10 pick and would have received at least a $10 million signing bonus.

Now McGahee is looking at possibly being a third-round pick with a signing bonus around $500,000 and a base salary of about $200,000. Brandt said whichever team drafts him will probably try to sign him to a highly incentive-based contract.

If McGahee is unable to play again, he would collect on a $2.5 million insurance policy he took out just before the Fiesta Bowl. The policy contains a clause that would allow McGahee to play in up to three college or pro football games without becoming void.

But in a statement released by a family spokesman Monday night, McGahee said he doesn't anticipate using the policy. He plans to have a successful NFL career.

"It was something I prayed on and something I discussed with my family," McGahee told WFOR-TV in Miami. "I feel I can go up to the next level and give it my best I was told I can make a 100 percent recovery and that's what I am planning on doing. It was my childhood dream and I am going to fulfill my dream."

McGahee set school records this season with 1,753 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns and was a first team All-American. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, the Doak Walker Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year award.

"I said I was going to be the best running back in college, and I think I did that," McGahee said. "And (now) I am going to be the best running back in the NFL."

Maybe, maybe not. Those doctors' visits are only a start.

"If that would have happened 10 years ago, there would have been no chance he would have ever played again," Brandt said. "But the way doctors do reconstructive surgery now, it's just unbelievable, and I don't think there's any question that he'll be back to play. Will he be able to cut as well? Will he be as fast as he was before? I don't know."

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