While Willis McGahee wasn’t a Hall of Fame-caliber player during his 10-year career in the National Football League, he still got the job done week in and week out.
McGahee was an effective running back who had 8,474 rushing yards and 65 touchdowns in 142 career regular-season games with the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, and Cleveland Browns.
Let’s not forget McGahee’s 1,753 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns for the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 NCAA season was the stuff of legends.
Despite the paternity controversies McGahee has stirred (he has ten children with nine different women), he remains one of the better workhorse running backs in recent memory.
Willis Andrew McGahee, Jr. was born to parents Willis, Sr. and Jannie in Miami, FL on October 21, 1981.
McGahee has two older brothers. One of them, Kishara Anderson, passed away due to colon cancer in 1992, per The Baltimore Sun.
His mother Jannie Jones raised her three boys – who all had different fathers – by herself.
Jones worked as a bus driver for Miami-Dade Transit to help support her children. Even though she worked many nights, she still made it to her sons’ football games.
The boys spend a lot of time with their grandmother Thelma Jones while their mother worked the night shift.
Even when Willis was a child, she saw the competitive fire burning inside of him. Whether it was playing video games or racing other kids in their neighborhood, McGahee loved to compete.
Jannie Jones told her boys not to have any illegitimate children when they become fathers. She didn’t want them raising their kids the way she raised them knowing they had absentee fathers.
According to The Baltimore Sun, McGahee saw his father and namesake only occasionally during his formative years. It was his mother who bore the brunt of the parenting duties.
It’s clear football runs in the McGahee bloodline.
Willis McGahee, Sr. was a high school defensive lineman for the Mays High Rams. He was a 1966 Miami News High School All-Star.
The older McGahee went on to play college football at Texas Southern University.
His son would carry on the family’s football legacy more than two decades later.
— Blustein Recruiting (@larryblustein) April 26, 2015
Willis McGahee attended Miami Springs High School for three years before transferring to Miami Central Senior High School.
Tim “Ice” Harris was McGahee’s coach with the Miami Central Rockets. When they lifted weights together, Harris would go first while McGahee watched.
McGahee waited for the heaviest bench press, clean, or whatever lift Harris did. He would nonchalantly beat him every time.
“He’s motivated by beating other people,” Harris told The Baltimore Sun in 2007.
McGahee concluded his stint on the high school gridiron as one of the top running backs in the nation and the No.1-ranked running back in the state of Florida.
Willis McGahee would go on and become one of the best running backs in Miami Hurricanes football program history.
College Days With The Miami Hurricanes
Willis McGahee remained in South Florida for his college football career.
McGahee joined a powerhouse Miami Hurricanes squad that included Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, and Ed Reed.
McGahee would follow in the footsteps of Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis as some of the best running backs in school history.
After McGahee redshirted his true freshman season in 2000, he had 77 yards on 17 carries in the Hurricanes’ 33-7 road win over the Penn State Nittany Lions in September 2001.
It was a decent debut considering he split carries with Portis.
McGahee finished his redshirt freshman season with 324 yards and three touchdowns on 67 carries in the 2001 NCAA campaign.
He was part of a Miami Hurricanes juggernaut that went 12-0 in the regular season.
The top-seeded Hurricanes clinched their fifth national title after they beat the fourth-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 2002 Rose Bowl, 37-14.
All of a sudden, the floodgates burst wide open for Willis McGahee in the 2002 NCAA season.
McGahee produced the best season by a Miami Hurricanes running back in recent memory.
After gashing the Florida Gators’ defense for 204 rushing yards in a 41-16 rout in the Hurricanes’ second regular-season game, McGahee never looked back.
He had an incredible ten 100-yard+ rushing games in 2002.
— Miami Hurricanes (@MiamiHurricanes) November 7, 2013
McGahee punctuated his breakout season with a school record six touchdowns and 205 rushing yards on a school record-tying 39 carries in a 56-45 win over the 18th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies on December 7, 2002.
The victory propelled the Hurricanes to the Fiesta Bowl and their second national title game in as many years.
McGahee had 1,753 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on 282 carries in his redshirt sophomore campaign in Miami.
It was a performance for the ages.
Regrettably, Willis McGahee’s college football career ended on a sour note.
McGahee took a forearm from an Ohio State Buckeyes defender to the knee in the fourth quarter of the Hurricanes’ 31-24 loss in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
His leg got twisted in the wrong direction. He tore almost all of the connective tissue in his knee, including his ACL, MCL, and PCL.
Willis McGahee managed to defy insurmountable odds.
McGahee went all out during his intense rehab. He told The Baltimore Sun he rehabbed six hours daily at his brother’s gym in Opa-Locka, FL so he could regain his swagger on the gridiron.
Eugene Pool, the gym owner, drew up a workout program for his brother that included pulling trucks and lifting tree trunks.
Just five months after he sustained the gruesome leg injury, he put on a show for NFL scouts.
McGahee squatted 225 lbs. and ran as if he was never injured in the first place.
Willis McGahee had 2,067 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns on 349 carries in his two-year stint with the Miami Hurricanes.
He earned First Team All-Big East, Consensus All-American, and Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors after the 2002 NCAA season.
McGahee was also a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, the Walter Camp Player of the Year award, and the Heisman Trophy.
After getting three medical opinions and taking out a $2.5 million insurance policy, Willis McGahee decided to skip his redshirt junior campaign and declare for the 2003 NFL Draft.
“I said I was going to be the best running back in college, and I think I did that, and I’m going to be the best running back in the NFL,” McGahee told The Washington Post on January 14, 2003.
Miami Hurricanes running backs coach Don Solinger vouched for McGahee’s good behavior during his college days in South Florida:
“Those things people talk about him, I never saw any of that,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 2007. “We never had a problem with Willis. But if you ever did, you knew to go right to Willis’ mom.”
In August 2011, a booster named Nevin Shapiro testified during interviews with federal agents he supplied benefits to several Miami Hurricanes players from 2002 to 2010.
Willis McGahee was one of those players. per Yahoo! Sports’ Charles Robinson.
Shapiro claimed he provided McGahee with two custom-tailored suits, plane tickets for his girlfriend and a second female to attend the 2002 Heisman Trophy ceremony, food, drinks and entertainment; cash gifts, and $2,000 worth of cash bounties.
Despite Shapiro’s revealing testimony, Willis McGahee was about to take the National Football League by storm.
Pro Football Career
The Buffalo Bills made Willis McGahee the 23rd overall selection of the 2003 NFL Draft.
The Bills acquired McGahee’s draft rights when they traded wide receiver Peerless Price to the Atlanta Falcons after the 2002 NFL season.
Willis McGahee, who could have cashed in on a $2.5M injury insurance policy to never play again, takes his changes to comeback & play.
15 years ago today, the Buffalo Bills take him at No. 23.
McGahee wins on his bet. Earns more than $35 million over his NFL career. pic.twitter.com/aWWBNJpOrY
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) April 26, 2018
It turned out the gruesome leg injury McGahee sustained in the national title game was a blessing in disguise: it changed his running style just as he was about to enter the NFL ranks.
Former Buffalo Bills safety and radio analyst Mark Kelso, who played in four consecutive Super Bowls, told The Baltimore Sun McGahee’s new running style is more suited for the pro game:
“He’s changed his running style entirely since college. At Miami, they overpowered people and he was a speed guy who just had to hit the hole and run away from people.”
“But after the knee injury, he had to change his style quite a bit and he went through some growing pains. Now it’s a matter of (him) knowing how and when to hit the hole.”
After sitting out the entire 2003 NFL campaign, McGahee racked up two consecutive seasons of at least 1,128 yards and a combined 18 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the Bills averaged just seven wins during that span and failed to contend for the postseason.
Nevertheless, McGahee earned 2004 NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors from The Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers Association.
McGahee, who had been accustomed to the party lifestyle since his college days in Miami, told The Baltimore Sun in March 2007 moving to Buffalo was four years earlier was a massive culture shock:
“Coming from Miami, I was used to partying, going out, just having something to do every night. Restaurants, whatever.”
“Going to Buffalo, it was like hitting a brick wall. Like, ‘Damn!’ Can’t go out , can’t do nothing.”
“And then you get to Buffalo and no matter how you do, it’s the same. It’s no big city. You know what I did every day? I came home and played video games.”
McGahee’s disenchantment in his personal life became evident on the gridiron.
He ran behind an inept offensive line that couldn’t open up holes for him. McGahee had 13 rushing touchdowns in his second pro season in Buffalo, That total dwindled to a combined 11 over the next two seasons.
McGahee admitted to The Baltimore Sun in 2007 he’s a shy individual who doesn’t resort to yelling and screaming. If coaches wanted him to do something, all they needed to do was tell him straight up.
He also told The Baltimore Sun the Bills asked him to step up and become more of a vocal leader. He didn’t because he had confidence in his teammates back then:
“I wasn’t, I guess, a team leader. But if you aren’t happy, you’re just going to do your own job and don’t worry about nothing else. They asked. But that isn’t like me to be trying to get other grown men fired up. They know what they got to do.”
Top 50 Fan Favorite Buffalo Bills players voted on by YOU, the fans!
— Put Steve Tasker in the Hall of Fame (@HOFSteveTasker) August 17, 2020
On the personal front, McGahee heeded his mother’s advice of not having any outside children until his college days.
Ironically, when McGahee turned pro, he made headlines for his philandering ways.
Jannie Jones told The Baltimore Sun in 2007 her son’s gullibility was the root cause:
“Well, you know how it went. Willis started college, he listened and nothing happened. But the minute it was the NFL, I didn’t have any control.”
“And he is such a – how can I say this? – he trusts people. And girls would tell him, ‘I use birth control pills’ and this and that.”
McGahee eventually wore out his welcome in Buffalo.
The Bills reportedly grew disenchanted with McGahee doing offseason workouts in Miami rather than at their Orchard Park, NY headquarters, per ESPN.
McGahee also earned the ire of Bills fans when he suggested the team, which had not made the postseason in seven straight years, move to Toronto.
McGahee was quoted in a magazine article. He told ESPN it was taken out of context.
However, it was too little, too late. The damage had been done.
The Bills traded McGahee to the Baltimore Ravens for three draft selections on March 9, 2007.
GM Eric DeCosta recalls the trade that brought Willis McGahee to Baltimore. McGahee officially retires a Raven today. pic.twitter.com/KGza3eYthb
— Sean Grogan (@By_SeanGrogan) August 2, 2019
According to the ESPN report, McGahee’s five-year deal with the Ravens was worth roughly $26.42 million without the last two option years.
McGahee had 1,207 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in his first year with the Ravens in the 2007 NFL season.
He also earned the first of his two Pro Bowl nods that year.
Regrettably, Baltimore had a woeful 5-11 win-loss record and missed the postseason.
Various injuries, a more pass-oriented attack, and heavier reliance on Ray Rice took a toll on Willis McGahee’s production in his next three years in The Charm City.
McGahee didn’t produce a single 1,000-yard season during that stretch. The most he had were 671 rushing yards in the 2008 NFL campaign.
Despite his reduced yardage, Willis McGahee became a more valuable contributor in short-yardage situations. He averaged eight touchdowns per season from 2008 to 2010.
McGahee’s 3,300 yards from scrimmage and 31 rushing touchdowns over a four-year span made him the most productive Baltimore player in terms of touchdowns in the previous half decade.
The Ravens became postseason contenders with McGahee playing a reduced role. However, they couldn’t get past the AFC Championship Game at the time.
— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) January 18, 2020
McGahee narrowly escaped a career-threatening injury after Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark drove his helmet into the Ravens running back’s face mask during the AFC title game.
McGahee’s head snapped back. He dropped the ball and lay motionless on the field. He was later diagnosed with a concussion and a sore neck.
“I’m all right, everything is okay,” he told ESPN on January 20, 2009. “The MRI and CAT scan checked out good. I was scared, but I didn’t know how serious it was. It was pretty intense.”
Baltimore released Willis McGahee on July 28, 2011 to free up cap space.
McGahee signed a four-year, $9.5 million contract with the Denver Broncos two days later.
He had his first 1,000-plus yard season in four years. McGahee had 1,199 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his first year in the Mile High City. He also became a Pro Bowler for the second time in his 10-year NFL career.
A season-ending knee injury limited McGahee to ten games in the 2012 NFL season.
He had 1,930 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in his two-year tenure with the Broncos. During that time, Denver averaged ten wins per year but lost in the AFC Divisional Round each time.
The Broncos released McGahee on June 13, 2013.
“I knew it was going to happen,” McGahee told ESPN. “It is what it is. They are going younger.”
Northeast Ohio was the final stop in Willis McGahee’s pro football career. He signed with the Cleveland Browns on September 20, 2013.
McGahee filled the void left by Trent Richardson, who the Browns traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round selection.
McGahee had a career-low 377 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 138 carries in twelve games for Cleveland in 2013.
The Browns went 4-12 in McGahee’s lone season in Cleveland. They missed the postseason for the 11th straight year.
Willis McGahee retired as a Raven today. McGahee ran for 8,474 yards while playing for Bills, Ravens, Broncos and Browns. “I chose this place to be my home because it was family-like with the players and the coaches,” McGahee said. pic.twitter.com/KUtlH30DfC
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) August 2, 2019
An emotional Willis McGahee announced his retirement as a member of the Baltimore Ravens organization on August 2, 2019.
He chose to retire as a Raven because of the team’s family-like atmosphere that head coach John Harbaugh had created.
McGahee even told The Baltimore Sun that Harbaugh checked his room a lot of times during his four-year stay in The Charm City:
“I chose Baltimore to be my home because it was more family-like,” McGahee said. “He (Harbaugh) came in my room plenty of times (laughs). I know he didn’t check everybody’s rooms, but he checked my room for sure.”
Willis McGahee had 8,474 rushing yards and 65 touchdowns on 2,096 carries for the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, and Cleveland Browns in his ten-year NFL career.
Willis McGahee has ten children.
Complex.com reported in June 2014 McGahee already had nine children with eight different women.
When McGahee played for the Buffalo Bills from 2003 to 2006, he fathered three kids. His other kids were born during his stops in Baltimore, Denver, and Cleveland.
In a separate Complex.com report, McGahee reportedly had his tenth child in August 2014. The mother of the child is his girlfriend Marshevet Hooker.
McGahee has given journeyman running back Travis Henry and former New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie stiff competition in terms of fathering children out of wedlock.
Henry has eleven children with ten women. On the other hand, Cromartie has twelve children with eight women, per Goliath.com.
McGahee has more kids than former Seattle SuperSonics forward Shawn Kemp (seven), boxer Mike Tyson (eight), boxer Muhammad Ali (nine), and retired NBA star Willie Anderson (nine).
Only boxers Evander Holyfield (eleven) and George Foreman (twelve) as well as retired NBA star Calvin Murphy (fourteen) are the athletes with more children than McGahee.
Willis McGahee has 9 children by 8 women,
Before these guys take a knee they should take a good look in the mirror. It appears that their problem is not their knee. pic.twitter.com/a9XUDdwvQj
— Deplorable Gary Lee (@garyibe007) December 26, 2018
Even during the height of McGahee’s paternity issues in Buffalo, he never paid attention to the constant noise.
“They’re on the outside looking in,” McGahee told The Baltimore Sun in 2007. “They don’t know me or my kids.”
McGahee also told the publication he takes care of his kids. He pays for their needs and visits them whenever he could.
The Miami Hurricanes Sports Hall of Fame inducted Willis McGahee in March 2016.