McGahee's injury has more college athletes buying insurance

Updated: August 13, 2003, 4:56 PM ET

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami defensive tackle Vince Wilfork considered getting disability insurance several times last season. Every time he started thinking about, he got sidetracked. First with the death of his father, then the passing of his mother.

One moment finally got him on the phone: When running back Willis McGahee, widely considered one of the top five picks in the NFL draft, went down with what looked like a career-ending injury in the national championship game.

"I jumped on it after that," said Wilfork, a father of two who turned down NFL riches by returning for his senior season so he could fulfill a promise to his parents to graduate. "I had it done two weeks later. Willis' injury made me realize that nothing is promised to you and you can't take football for granted."

Wilfork took out a $2 million insurance policy with Lloyd's of London for this season. Several teammates have similar policies, including tight end Kellen Winslow, safety Sean Taylor and offensive tackle Vernon Carey.

Watching McGahee being helped off the field with torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee had a ripple effect at Miami and around the nation, with more and more college athletes deciding that it's better to be safe than sorry.

"There is absolutely no question that his injury has had reverberations across the country for elite players as well as coaches, parents and school administrators," said Keith Lerner, who runs Total Planning financial services in Gainesville. "His injury happened with the national spotlight shining on the biggest game of the year. It brought home the fact that in any given game and on any given play anyone can get hurt.

"And there's more to protect now than every before. There's a lot of money to be left on the table if you get hurt playing college football."

Hours before the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, McGahee and his family took out a $2.5-million policy through Lerner, the largest issued to a college sophomore.

Although McGahee has recovered, his much-publicized injury and insurance coverage created more business for Lerner, who wrote policies for six of the top 34 picks in this year's NFL draft, and other financial consultants.

"It doesn't happen very often, but it can happen and it does happen and it will continue to happen that some young and extremely promising career is cut short -- no matter how good modern medicine is," Lerner said.

College athletes can obtain coverage through private brokers or the NCAA, which began insuring football and men's college basketball players in 1990. The NCAA has expanded its coverage to women's basketball and men's ice hockey.

Coverage is based on where players are projected to be drafted. McGahee, a relative unknown at the start of last season, wasn't eligible for coverage. Wilfork, Winslow and Taylor are considered potential first-round picks next year.

Lerner wrote policies for former Hurricanes Andre Johnson, William Joseph and Andrew Williams last season. He also insured Jeremy Shockey and Bryant McKinnie in 2001.

The cost of a disability insurance premium for a football player is about $15,000 per $1-million of coverage, Lerner said.

"I think having it is absolutely necessary," said Winslow, whose father purchased his policy through the NCAA. "If you don't have it and you get hurt it's like losing money, so why not have it? Plus, the amount you have to pay back when you get to the NFL isn't that much considering the signing bonuses and salaries guys are getting these days. So it's definitely worth it."

Ed Chester, a standout defensive tackle at Florida from 1995 to 1998, is one of the few college football players to collect on insurance policies. He collected $1 million in 1999 after a severe knee injury caused nerve damage and ended his career.

Many, including Wilfork, thought McGahee's career was over, too.

"After that, I truly believe guys stepped up and got insurance as soon as possible," Wilfork said. "People learned from that incident. I'm one of them. I took it and ran with it."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index