Jeff Gettys (35) closes on a teammate during Saturday's scrimmage in Columbia.

It would have been understandable if Jeff Gettys didn’t return to the Missouri football team. He suffered a season-ending knee injury last year and graduated in May.

But the thought of leaving the Tigers never entered Gettys’ mind.

“I knew I wanted to play another year of football,” he said. “I came here wanting five bowl rings. That’s my plan.”

As he practices with Missouri in anticipation of its Sept. 4 season opener, Gettys is putting the finishing touches on a memorable five-year journey. This year will be the final chapter in a story that could have ended prematurely.

It was the second game of the 2009 season. The Tigers had just taken their first lead against Bowling Green with 5 minutes, 38 seconds remaining. As he raced down the field to cover the ensuing kickoff, Gettys planted his foot in the ground. His knee gave out.

The early diagnosis on the sidelines was an ACL tear. A MRI the next day showed better news. There was no meniscus tear.

Gettys had surgery a month later and went to rehab twice a day through January. He was back for spring practices and has no limitations as the Tigers continue to prepare for the 2010 season. The only sign of his injury is a black and gold knee brace.

“My knee actually feels great. It just takes a little to get it going,” Gettys said. “I would say it’s about 98 percent. I still have to ice it and keep up with a little maintenance, but the strength and quickness are there.”

Gettys said he feels as fast and strong as he was before the injury. He said he rarely thinks about his knee.

“The first time I walked, ran and cut on it, it was an all new experience. Each one of those helps build up your confidence,” Gettys said. “But you just can’t think about those things when you’re out there playing. There are too many other things to think about.”

Gettys is far removed from the freshman walk-on who arrived in Columbia in 2006. He has since earned a scholarship, scored a defensive touchdown and overcame a season-ending injury.

Those experiences make two-a-days as a senior much different than his previous years.

“The first year you have a lot of anxiety and really don’t know what’s going on. As you go on throughout the years, you learn and remember things,” Gettys said. “Now, it feels like old habit. You can pretty much write the schedule yourself.”

Things are much different in the classroom, too. Gettys graduated in May with an business administration degree. He is enrolled in graduate courses as he pursues a masters in public affairs.

Although his actual classroom time has been trimmed from 15 to nine hours per week, Gettys said the work load continues to be about the same.

“You have less of a day-to-day commitment in the classroom, but there’s more work to complete,” he said. “It evens out.”

On the field, Gettys is listed at No. 3 on the depth chart at middle linebacker as part of a talented unit. Injuries have allowed him to work with the Nos. 1 and 2 teams this preseason. He has also returned to special teams. Gettys said he is first string on each unit except the kickoff team.

No matter what his role in 2010, Gettys is most concerned with contributing to another trip bowl season. It would be the fifth — equally the goal he established when he arrived in Columbia — in his five-year career.

“I’m looking to get back out there and help wherever I can,” Gettys said. “Wherever they need me, I’ll play. I should be healthy.”

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