GAINESVILLE, Fla. — No player generated more preseason buzz last season for Florida than junior college transfer Dre Massey.
There was talk about him being the fastest player on the roster. There were plans to have him return kicks, play slot receiver, maybe even contribute to some trick plays with his passing and punting abilities.
And then on the opening kickoff of the season, that was all finished. Massey was done for the year with a torn ACL.
It was a cruel blow to a Gators offense needing any and every spark it could get, and an even crueler hit to a guy who had put everything into creating this opportunity for himself.
“When they told me, it was me and my mom there. Honestly, we (were) down about it, but we just looked at each other and kind of smiled and we were like, ‘Another storm,'” Massey recalled. “We’ve been through so much, it was just, we’ve got to fight one more thing.”
Standing inside Florida’s indoor practice facility earlier this week after a spring practice, Massey recounted moving around a bunch as a child, letting his football talents create a reason for his family to leave a rough area in Laurens, S.C., for Mauldin, S.C., a nicer suburb of Greenville.
Still, life dealt him obstacle after obstacle.
None more significant than losing his father to a car accident prior to starting high school.
“I guess like every other kid, just keep moving,” Massey said of overcoming that tragic loss. “That’s why a lot of things don’t get me down.”
In the wake of that life-altering setback, Massey’s academics struggled for a couple years. By the time he was ready to cash in on his football talents and pick a college, his grades would keep him from qualifying and send him instead to Holmes Community College in Goodman, Miss.
“There’s nothing to do at all. The place doesn’t even have a McDonald’s,” Massey said. “It was a real struggle, but every other weekend (the coach) had me set up on visits so I could get out and see things.”
He earned a scholarship offer to Florida and found his way into what looked to be a prime opportunity to help jolt a slumping Gators offense.
Then came that opening kickoff return. He felt the knee buckle a little while making his first cut, but he didn’t know in that moment that his season was already over.
“When I first did it on the kickoff return, I didn’t think nothing of it. I got up pretty normal, just ran off the field, it was cool, and when I got to the sideline I just felt a little unstable,” he recalled. “So I went to the bench to try to see what was wrong, and they didn’t see anything wrong with it. So I just put a sleeve on and tried to keep playing. Around halftime it started to stiffen up.”
Massey would attack the rehab process aggressively and by January he was running again, but in the meanwhile, Saturdays were especially tough.
“Getting up early in the morning every day and going to rehab, treatment, I wanted to do that because I wanted to get back. That wasn’t hard. It was just knowing that in big games like LSU and stuff like that I couldn’t go,” he said. “… It was very hard, knowing that I was going to play a big role.”
He’ll still get that chance, though.
Massey is going through spring practice, again ready to make his impact at Florida. Although he’s not involved in any contact drills yet, he feels good and says he has gotten most of his speed back already.
Asked in what ways he still feels limited, he responded matter-of-factly.
“I’m not limited. I’m ready,” Massey said.
As for all that confidence he brought into camp last August, the high exceptions, the preseason hype …
“Yeah, I’m still confident,” he said. “I’m going to just be more quiet and just play.”