CNNSI.com 2002 College Bowls


 

Big setback

McGahee needs surgery after tearing knee ligaments

Posted: Saturday January 04, 2003 3:04 PM
Updated: Saturday January 04, 2003 8:07 PM
  Willis McGahee Willis McGahee is carried off the field after receiving a knockout blow from OSU's Will Allen. AP

PHOENIX (AP) -- 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.

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    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."

    McGahee carried eight times for 42 yards after halftime, including an impressive, 9-yard touchdown run that cut Ohio State's lead to 17-14 with about two minutes left in the third quarter, and finished with 20 carries for 67 yards.

    Jarrett Payton ran eight times for 17 yards off the bench, but Miami really missed McGahee with the game on the line. Trailing 31-24 in the second overtime, the Hurricanes had first-and-goal at the 2. Payton ran for a yard, Dorsey threw incomplete and fullback Quadtrine Hill ran for no gain -- prompting Miami to throw on fourth down.

    Dorsey got hit as he threw a fluttering pass that fell incomplete.

    "I would have liked to have a healthy Willis McGahee on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1," Soldinger said. "I'd give it to him. You'd think he'd make it."

    Miami coach Larry Coker said he has spoken with underclassmen who are eligible for the NFL draft. Coker said a couple of players assured him they were coming back, but he wouldn't say who they were.

    Wide receiver Andre Johnson, offensive tackle Vernon Carey, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebackers Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams are considered early round picks in April's NFL draft if they leave school early.

    Johnson said he had to discuss the possibility of leaving early for the NFL with his family.

    "I really haven't had a chance to think about it," Johnson said. "I was kind of down last night."

     
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