DALLAS — Missouri fans might get their final glimpse of Henry Josey in a Tigers uniform this week.
The redshirt junior running back hinted in a Tuesday news conference that he could leave school early for the NFL Draft next May. His admission came one day after posting an Instagram photo — since deleted — with fellow running backs Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, which included an ambiguous caption referencing his "last time" with his teammates.
No. 8 Missouri Tigers vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State Cowboys
When: Friday at 7 p.m. CT
Where: AT&T (Cowboys) Stadium — Arlington, Texas
Josey laughed when reporters asked about the photo on Tuesday afternoon.
"I knew that was going to be the main talk today," he said after flashing a wide smile. "The main question everybody wanted to ask me."
But for the first time, he didn't deny he could leave for the pros.
"It's always a dream as a kid," Josey said. "You want to get to the next level and further your career as a football player. I can't just sit around and say, 'Yes, I'm leaving,' or 'Yes, I'm staying.' I haven't made a decision about any of that."
However, after Missouri's 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, he pledged to stick around for one more year.
"I'll be back," he said in the bowels of the Georgia Dome. "Where am I going? I don't think I'm dying. Of course I'll be back. I want to win, and I'm not done yet."
Was he too emotional at the time to think clearly?
"I'm never caught up in emotions about anything," he said Tuesday. "The main focus is going to be on this game. Yes, I want to come back. And yes, I want to graduate. That's something I made a promise to my grandma and a couple of other people in my life. It's a big decision."
There are a few other Tigers with a decision to make after Friday. Junior defensive end Kony Ealy is expected to be drafted in the first few rounds if he decides to leave. Fellow linemen Markus Golden and Shane Ray are dark horse candidates to forgo their final years at Missouri.
Josey's situation is a bit different, though. After essentially destroying his knee in 2011 against Texas, he missed all of 2012 and spent this season proving that he's back to full health. Coming back for his senior year would also mean risking another injury to his knee without collecting one NFL paycheck.
"That's always going to play a role," Josey said about the potential re-injury. "Do you want to take that chance of going back to play again and getting hurt? You're always going to think about that. I just can't think about it too much, 'cause I have a game to win."
That game is Friday's Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma State. His team is trying to win 12 games for only the second time in school history. And while Josey has been a big part of the success (1,129 total yards, 14 touchdowns), teammate Evan Boehm said he believes the Tigers would miss much more than Josey's production.
What, exactly, is special about him off the field?
"The way he smiles," Boehm said. "His smiling face every day. The attitude he brings to the team. When he scores a touchdown, he credits us (the offensive line). The credit he gives us is unbelievable. We're only a little bit of what he does. We open those holes for him, and to see him take off is something special."
Senior offensive lineman Justin Britt has a good chance to be drafted in May. He appreciates what Josey has done, but also thinks the offense would be fine without No. 20.
"We have great backs," Britt said. "I don't think they'd lose a step. But Henry always bring explosives. He can break a big run on any play."
It's that home run threat combined with his motivational backstory that have made Josey a fan favorite. Of course, they want him back for one more in Columbia, and they might just get their wish. But nothing is certain.
"It's been a great season," Josey said. "I'm proud of my teammates. But there's unfinished business always. You want to get things taken care of. I'm a competitor that way. I believe in getting back and beating 'em."
Supervising editor is Wade Livingston.