By Rich Kurtzman
Player: Willis McGahee, #23
Height: 6′ 0″
Weight: 235 pounds
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
College: University of Miami
Experience: 9 years
Willis McGahee has lived a long, storied football life.
The 30-year old running back had a dream come true when he was able to play college football in his hometown of Miami, Fla. for the University of Miami (aka “The U”), and he played very well. In 2001, McGahee won a national championship with the Hurricanes.
In 2002 as a junior, he blew away Miami single-season records with 282 carries for 1,753 yards and 28 touchdowns. His 28 scores that year stand as the fifth-most in Division I history and he came in fourth in Heisman Trophy voting that season. In that year’s championship game, McGahee had his leg hit and he tore the ACL, MCL and PCL in his left knee, but he decided to declare for the NFL Draft that year anyway and was selected in No. 23 overall by the Buffalo Bills.
After taking a year off to rehab his ailing knee, he played 46 games for Buffalo from 2004-2006. In those three years, McGahee averaged 1,122 yards and eight touchdowns per season on the ground.
He was traded to the Baltimore Ravens and continued to enjoy success as one of the most difficult running backs to tackle due to his size, strength and determination to power through the line. His best year in Baltimore was his first, 2007, when he rushed for 1,207 yards and seven scores. The three subsequent seasons, he dropped off in production each year, all the way down to 380 yards and five scores in 2010.
It left many wondering if the game had passed the then-28-year-old by. He was released by the Ravens in 2011 and his future as an NFL player was in question.
That’s when his career was reborn as a member of the Denver Broncos.
Knowshon Moreno was the Broncos’ starting running back in Week One of the 2011 season, but an early injury opened the door for McGahee, who took a stranglehold on the starting spot, never letting go since.
2011 was a special season for McGahee. The big, bruising back was used heavily, as a way to complement and take the pressure off youngster Tim Tebow, running the option with the run-first quarterback for much of the year. He ended the season with 1,199 yards and four touchdowns as an integral member of the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL that season. He eventually made the Pro Bowl as a replacement for Arian Foster, the first such honor of his career.
And this season has started as strongly as last year ended.
In Week One, he ran strong and steadily, 16 times for 64 yards. On Monday, he was spectacular, rushing 22 times for 113 yards—the 31st time in his career he went over 100 yards—and a 5.1 yard per carry average, including two crucial touchdowns. The Broncos didn’t win the game, but he kept Denver in the contest with those scores and he was a presence on the ground all night. He busted runs between the tackles, gaining the hard yards, pushing the pile and leading his team downfield.
Without a doubt, he’ll be incredibly important to the Broncos offense all year long once again, especially with Moreno struggling to back him up. Broncomaniacs are in for a treat with McGahee carrying the rock.
Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.