HOOVER, Ala. — Missouri left tackle Elvis Fisher hadn't really thought about how an injury and an odd turn of events had led him to this point, but when asked, he couldn't help but see the irony.
The St. Petersburg native grew up a Florida and SEC fan but signed with Missouri expecting to spend his career playing in the Big 12. But a horrific knee injury that nearly ended his football career led Fisher back for a sixth year of eligibility, and to his appearance at SEC media days on Tuesday surrounded by reporters and talking about his remarkable comeback.
That, and the upcoming game against the Gators. Were it not for the injury, Fisher would have missed Missouri's first season as an SEC member, and his opportunity to play at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium against his close friend and current Gator Jon Halapio in November.
"There's a little irony there for sure," said Fisher, a St. Petersburg Catholic alum. "To be able to play back in my home state, that will be fun."
Fisher started all 40 games for the Tigers from 2008-10 before he ruptured his patella tendon during preseason camp in August, missing the entire season.
"I'm really excited just to be able to play again," Fisher said. "I didn't know from this injury if I'd be able to come back and play. I'm just thankful I get to play football."
Fisher is part of an offensive line that returns four starters, and coach Gary Pinkel said he's invaluable.
"His experience level, his leadership level, he brings so much more than just being a good football player," Pinkel said. "I think he's worked tremendously hard to get back, been very positive. We're excited that he came back for his final season."
But getting back wasn't easy.
Fisher had to remain perfectly straight and keep his knee laced straight for about six weeks. Once his range of motion returned, he was able to walk with a mobilizer about three months later.
"I definitely had to learn how to walk again," he said. "Being immobilized, being not able to walk for five or six weeks, you forget how to walk and it was real terrifying when we first started moving it. I couldn't move my leg; they moved it for me when I would do my rehab. It's a tough process. But you've got to do it to be able to walk again, so I'm thankful I got through it. You've got to go through the pain to be able to get the glory at the end of it."
Fisher, who is a sports psychology major, said he was aided greatly by the Missouri training staff and sports psychologist Rick McGuire, who is also helping him with his postgraduate studies.
"I was really in the dumps for a while," he said.
As Missouri prepares for SEC play, his teammates said Fisher is needed.
"His being back is huge for our leadership," receiver TJ Moe said. "A guy like that, who's been so dominant over the years, and maybe hasn't gotten the respect that he should. If you watched the Insight Bowl in 2010, he dominated Adrian Clayborn, and he was a first-round draft pick (by the Bucs). The leadership that he brings, the humor that he brings and the love of the game that he brings to the offense is huge. It just catches fire because when you see a guy having that much fun, it's fun for you, too."