Saturday, October 20, 2007

Happy Birthday Willis McGahee

Happy 26th birthday to former University of Miami and current Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee. McGahee has overcome two serious knee injuries to become one of the NFL's most productive and highly paid running backs. His 2002 season at UM is arguably the greatest individual season ever by a UM offensive player the best ever by a Canes running back.

Born Willis Andrew McGahee in Miami, he came from an athletic family. His father Willis Sr. was great high school player at both all-black George Washington Carver and Mays High Schools during segregation. The elder McGahee was a two-time Miami Herald All-City selection as a defensive lineman while playing for legendary high school coach Nathaniel "Traz" Powell and later played college ball at Texas Southern University. Those athletic gifts were passed down to his son Willis Jr.

The younger McGahee was destined to be a football star. He began his high school career at Miami Springs High School where he played for longtime coach Buddy Goins. When McGahee was in the 9th grade, Goins ran into then UM running backs coach Don Soldinger and told him McGahee is the best running back talent he ever saw come out of Dade County. Soldinger never forgot the conversation. He kept track of McGahee throughout his prep career. By his junior year, McGahee had established himself as one of the premier backs in the state. He rushed for 1004 yards, averaging 8.5 per carry, and scored 15 times. He did this despite missing a few games due to injury and earned second team All-Dade County from the Miami Herald.

McGahee transferred to Miami Central High School his senior year where he played for Tim "Ice" Harris. He was hyped as the best running back prospect in the state and one of the best in the country. In his first five games, McGahee lived up to the hype rushing for 677 yards, 11 touchdown and averaged 8.8 yards per carry. But he suffered a season ending knee injury. Despite the injury, college recruiters didn't back off. He was named 3rd Team All Dade County by the Miami Herald and named to the prestigious Parade All American team and Gatorade Florida Player of the Year.

Recruited heavily by Florida, Florida State and Ohio State, McGahee chose to stay home and play for the Canes. He sat out his freshman year while redshirting to rehab his knee injury. McGahee saw his first action in 2001 while playing behind Clinton Portis and fellow freshman Frank Gore. He started his first game in the 2002 Rose Bowl against Nebraska at fullback and helped the Canes win the national championship.

When Portis left UM for the NFL and Gore suffered a season ending knee injury in spring practice, McGahee was given the starting tailback job and ran away with it. In 2002 McGahee gained 1,753 yards and scored 28 touchdowns--both UM records. He finished 4th in the Heisman Trophy voting. He led the Canes to another undefeated regular season and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl to play Ohio State for the national championship.

Heavily favored, the top ranked Canes struggled offensively against the Buckeyes. McGahee was held in check until he scored on 9 yard touchdown run to cut Ohio State's lead to 17-14 in the third quarter. But early in the 4th quarter McGahee suffered a devastating knee injury that forced him to leave the game. Miami eventually lost 31-24 in double overtime due to a controversial pass interference penalty that allowed Ohio State to stay in the game.

Despite the injury, McGahee's agent Drew Rosenhaus used some shrewd maneuvering to convince NFL teams his client was first round worthy. The Buffalo Bills selected McGahee with the 23 pick of the 2003 NFL Draft. After sitting out the 2003 season, McGahee made a strong comeback with the Bills in 2004 rushing for 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns. He followed that year with a solid 1,247 yards in 2005. After struggling in 2006 with only 990 yards, McGahee signed a 7-year contract worth $40.12 million with the Ravens.

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