Over four months ago the Hurricanes single-season record holder in rushing, all-purpose yards and 100-yard games laid on his back at the Fiesta Bowl wincing in pain after taking a hit from Ohio State safety Will Allen that sent McGahee's left knee inward and the rest of his leg forward.
Touted as a top-5 draft pick after rushing for 1,753 yards and scoring 28 touchdowns on 282 carries, McGahee was carted off the field in tears with three separate ligaments - anterior, posterior and medial collateral- torn in the knee.
Before the injury occurred many NFL scouts and executives were viewing McGahee as a player that could demand near a $10 million signing bonus and serve as a main piece to the turnaround of an entire franchise. Others have backed away not knowing when, if ever, McGahee will play again and how effective he can be.
On Tuesday McGahee continued his attempt at climbing back up through the charts.
In front of representatives for 15 NFL teams, including the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, over a dozen television cameras and a herd of local and national sportswriters, McGahee made one final effort at improving his draft status and making a miraculous return to the field by weight-lifting, riding a stationary bicycle, platform climbing, running the 40-yard dash and catching a handful of passes from former teammate Todd Sievers during a 60-minute workout session at UM.
Among the day's highlights: McGahee bench-pressed 225 pounds 25 times, squatted 180 pounds nine times, gingerly finished an un-timed 40-yard dash run and performed range of motion drills like the platform climbing. But despite being only 15 weeks into a rehabilitation process from a potentially career-ending surgery McGahee wasn't very surprised by the results.
"It was just another regular workout. I'm used to doing this all the time. The only difference today was y'all were here," said McGahee, at Greentree Field after the training session. "I didn't do this to change anything. This is the same as playing college ball. I'm very disciplined and know in my heart I can get the job done."
McGahee seemed unflustered by all the scrutiny drawn by the injury.
"I'm just a regular John Doe like you," he said. "I'm just trying to get the job done."
Others were a little more enthused with the results from the workout- notably McGahee's agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
"It is a miracle to see Willis out here doing these kind of things when you take into account that 15 weeks ago he was on a surgeon's table having his knee sliced up," said Rosenhaus. "If he can do all this on April 22nd just imagine what he'll be able to do when he reports for training camp July 22nd."
And although McGahee is far removed from recording his preinjury 4.26-second 40-yard dash and 41 1/2 vertical leap, Rosenhaus added that even before the workout Tuesday he had received calls from over a dozen NFL teams wanting to know how McGahee was progressing. Rosenhaus went on to say that the Raiders and New England Patriots have shown the most interest in snapping up McGahee late in the first round.
According to Rosenhaus, McGahee recorded eight percent body fat at the NFL combines in February, the lowest of any player that showed up.
"Willis is in great shape," Rosenhaus said. "Just look at the kid."
Five teams represented at Tuesday's workout- New England, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Philadelphia and Oakland- all have mid to late sections in the first round of the draft. And if the early projections on McGahee hold up the former Hurricane could find himself in a uniform by the time Saturday night rolls around. The Raiders have two picks (31st, 32nd) in the first round, while the Eagles (30th), Titans (28th), Steelers (27th), 49er's (26th) and Patriots (14th, 19th) could also opt for McGahee in the first round.
One of those teams closely monitoring McGahee's rehab came away pleased.
"He looked really good especially for a guy that's four months removed from surgery," said Raiders scout Calvin Branch. "It's really going to be up to him in order to play this year. But if he continues to work as hard as he has and follow the doctor's orders I don't see why he can't do it. Willis really looks like a determined and focused kid."
Rosenhaus has little doubts it will happen.
"I even got calls from Carolina (Panthers) and San Francisco (49er's) requesting a tape from the workout even though they couldn't be here," Rosenhaus said. "I think he'll play the whole year considering the progress he's made.
With the NFL draft just four days away it's difficult to know if the workout benefited McGahee in anyway. But with Saturday being right around the corner he won't have to wait long to find out.
"I'm really pumped," said McGahee. "I've been waiting my whole life for this opportunity."
Ed Garadian, director of physical therapy at HealthSouth Doctors' Hospital, has monitored McGahee's rehab. Garadian says the McGahee's mental approach through the entire ordeal make him believe the ex-UM star will be in uniform this fall.
"The kid doesn't take no for an answer," says Garadian. "Sometimes I have to hold him back because he wants to do too much. From my experiences most athletes would be just starting to get their range of motion back now. But Willis is such a gifted athlete he's way ahead. From what he's proved to me so far I'd have to say he will be ready for the upcoming NFL season."
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