- Edward Aschoff, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jake McGee lightly twists in his chair inside Florida's wide receiver meeting room. His baggy, black sweat pants rustle below a blue sweatshirt, curiously adorned with brown elbow patches.
As he speaks about a horrific leg injury that cut his 2014 season with the Gators incredibly short, he constantly touches his left leg. It's hard to tell if it's calculated, but anytime he mentions his injury, his hands reach for his knee or lower leg.
Eventually, the movements peak the interest of a reporter in front of him, and the 6-foot-6, 243-pound tight end offers to show him the inch-long, vertical surgical scar on his left knee. Beneath it lies a metal rod that extends under his skin down to his ankle and a set of screws that, when touched, feel like they're encased in a mixture of jello, bone and skin.
McGee, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA earlier this year, says he doesn't stress over his leg and is focused on a speedy recover from an injury he suffered in the first half of his first game with Florida. The Virginia transfer insists that there's no hesitation with his leg, but the more he speaks, the more he rubs and the more a smile begins to form on his rugged, yet boyish face.
“Every week is better than the next," said McGee, who caught 71 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns during his last two years at Virginia.
Pegged as a ballyhooed receiving option for a struggling Florida offense, McGee could barely blow his nose in Gainesville before breaking his left tibia and fibula when one of his own teammates pancaked an Eastern Michigan player onto his leg early in last year's season opener.
McGee said he lost feeling in his left leg almost immediately, but didn't realize the severity of it until Florida trainers brought an air cast out to him, and he was carted off the field. He soon learned that his leg was shattered and his season was over.
Months removed from leaving one home for a new one, McGee was unsure what the future would hold, but instead of dwelling on the immediate disaster, he said he focused on healing and returning to the playing field -- whether at Florida or elsewhere.
“It could have been a lot worse," McGee said. "I got pretty lucky that no knee or ankle ligaments got messed up at all. The bone just needed time to heal.”
And when you're talking about a bone that stretches the length of your leg and its sidekick, that's a lot of work and rework that needs to be done. That's a lot of rest, a lot of time for video games and couch lounging, and a lot of time that could be used to feel sorry for oneself.
Frustration did set in, as McGee hated not playing for a team that desperately needed him. Road games were the hardest because he couldn't be there in person. His angst intensified with the six weeks of non-weight-bearing time spent in a walker and on crutches.
During his month-and-a-half hiatus from being a premier Division-1 athlete and when he wasn't at Florida's training facility rehabbing, McGee enhanced his "FIFA" and "Call of Duty" skills on the Playstation 4 at home with his four other teammates/roommates.
Equipped with his appropriately titled username "JakeOvaThaWorld" McGee took ownership of his home and most of the Internet with his gaming skills.
"You’re not a true gamer unless you think you’re the best," McGee said through a confident smirk.
To reach the point of being the best for the Gators, McGee has endured a lot of rehab and awkwardness. There was the whole learning to walk again and tripping over himself during his first agility drill after weeks of being stationary. But he learned to turn every slight improvement into a major milestone.
“When you’ve been stuck on the couch for six weeks, the achievement to walk again is pretty cool," said McGee, who said he'll be 100 percent healthy this fall.
What's cool for new coach Jim McElwain is having McGee back on a team that lacks a catch from a tight end (in a Florida uniform), a stable quarterback situation or much of an offensive identity.
“He’s played," McElwain said of McGee, who has played in 37 career games, "he’s done it.”
He almost didn't get to continuing doing it, though. McGee said there were some stressful weeks earlier this year when it sounded like the NCAA wasn't going to grant him a waiver. McGee said that at one point it was "very slim" that he'd get to return, but after a few more meetings between his parents and members of the NCAA, McGee was granted a sixth year.
To this day, McGee still doesn't know what the issue was.
As a precaution, McGee didn't go through contact this spring, but he's running at full speed, cutting and getting through his routes with no limitations. His right arms rubs a little deeper into his leg when he talks about a lack of fear of re-injury, and he's quick to say that he doesn't feel like he's moving slower or more carefully.
McGee knows he'll be a little rusty this fall, but his leg isn't a concern. He's come too far from that couch to hold back.
“It’s something you don’t take for granted, but you don’t realize how great it is to be out there when you miss a whole season and have six months of rehab," he said. "It really is a blessing to get back out there.”
Jake McGee knows he'll be a little rusty this fall, but his leg isn't a concern. He's come too far to be held back.