Nothing in life has ever come easy for Florida Gators wide receiver Dre Massey.
From moving around a lot as a child, to losing his father in a car accident at a young age, to paving his way out of Holmes Community College and finally landing at the University of Florida, all the obstacles Massey has faced in his life have given him the strength to endure whatever new challenges are thrown his way.
The most recent hurdle to add to his list came last fall, in the very first game of his Division I football career. His mother traveled all the way from Greenville, South Carolina, to see her son play for the first time since high school.
Unfortunately, the game she thought would be the “best ever” turned out to be just one half; the only half Massey would see the field in his first season at Florida.
Massey got the call to return the opening kickoff against UMass. He felt his knee go in when he made his first cut and when he was hit at the 21-yard line, but he didn’t think much of it.
“I got up pretty normal and just ran off the field,” he said. “I was cool. On the sideline, I felt a little unstable so I went to the bench to see what was wrong. They didn’t see anything wrong with it, so I just put a sleeve on it and tried to keep playing. Around halftime it started to stiff up and I couldn’t go.”
After that, Massey was soon given the news that he would have to miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
“When they told me, my mom was there,” said Massey. “Obviously, we were down about it. We just looked at each other and kind of smiled. Like another storm. We have to fight one more thing.”
Once again, Massey was faced with a situation that would test his will to keep going forward.
He was supposed to play a big role for the Gators on offense with his speed and versatility. Massey’s ability to run, throw and catch had Jim McElwain and the Florida offensive staff excited to devise several plays just for him. Oh, what might have been.
Now, all those pages were ripped out of the play book and Florida was forced to move on without the potential explosive playmaker. Massey was forced to sit powerless on the sideline and watch his team struggle offensively, knowing there was nothing he could do to help.
“I was really down about it at first,” he admitted. “I tried to stay up as much as possible, being with my teammates and showing them I wasn’t getting discouraged. I was just really keeping my hopes up and making sure I’m ready for this moment right here, this year right here.”
Massey turned his feeling of helplessness into motivation to get back faster. His Doctor told him not to push himself too hard, but he knew his limits and he knew he wanted to be back on the field, so he went to work.
“Coming in extra days,” he said on what he did to make himself stronger. “I would do the stuff that we do here, I would do it at home. I would do extra reps of things and just do it the best I could. I just felt like that’s what helped me a lot.”
All the early mornings spent in the training room and the extra reps at home paid off, as he found himself way ahead of schedule in the rehab process. In early January, just four months after the injury, Massey said he was running close to full speed again.
Massey admitted to feeling a little rusty on his first day back, saying route running was the most difficult skill to get back, but he is getting back into the swing of things.
He is now being held, begrudgingly, to non-contact drills in Florida’s spring practices for precautionary measures. He is confident in the work he put in to get himself back to health and is waiting to get the ‘OK’ to go back full-time.
“I’m not limited,” he said. “I’m ready.”
“You really see no change in speed,” said wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon. “It’s tough to tell he went through an ACL, except a couple times when you see the big brace, but it’s going to be very important to get him back. He adds another element, you know, we can do a ton of things with him out of the backfield and slide him outside, so he’s one of those guys that I’m extremely excited to get back. I know he’s going to be special.”
Massey’s return was a long awaited one for his coaches, his teammates and himself. He survived another storm and came out hungrier than ever.
While he has not been completely cleared just yet, his presence back on the field gives the Gators some added confidence looking ahead to this season.
It is not yet determined if Massey will be asked to return kickoffs again this season, but he said he is not afraid and will be willing take on whatever he is called to do. His role should be much less singular this season.
Florida will finally get to dig up the ripped-out pages of the play book and use Massey as the weapon he is.