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Monday, January 6
Updated: January 7, 6:52 PM ET
Decision could secure McGahee's financial future

By Darren Rovell

When Keith Lerner saw University of Miami running back Willis McGahee go down in the fourth quarter of the National Championship game, he bolted from his couch, went into his home office and immediately began rifling through the papers.

Only five hours before, Lerner, an insurance agent based in Gainesville, Fla., had completed the paperwork on a $2.5 million insurance policy for the Hurricanes' sophomore stud who was projected to be a top NFL draft pick in April.

"I faxed his physical information to Lloyd's of London at 3 o'clock on Friday," Lerner said. "The ink wasn't even dry on the paper yet."

McGahee might have had only one game left in his collegiate career, but he approached Lerner -- who had written policies for former Miami players Santana Moss, Ed Reed and Bryant McKinnie -- to take out a large policy for the Fiesta Bowl. Thanks to that decision, if McGahee, who had surgery on his torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments Sunday, never returns to the gridiron, he will collect a tax-free, $2.5 million one year from the date of the injury -- Jan. 3, 2004.

"I originally said I could get him a $1.5 million policy, but he wanted more," said Lerner, president of Total Planning, a financial consulting firm. "Then, I got $2 million and he still wanted more. So eventually we got to $2.5 million, which is a very large policy and possibly the largest policy a sophomore has ever had."

Lerner declined to give the exact premium paid for the policy, but he did say McGahee's family took out a loan and paid less than $20,000 for it. Premiums usually cost about $10,000 per $1 million policy, but McGahee was able to get a better rate partly because it only covered him for the National Championship game and up until he signed an NFL contract.

McGahee also was able to get a larger policy because his projected draft status rose throughout the season. Lerner said if McGahee took out a policy in October, he would have received about $500,000 in total coverage. McGahee finished the season with a school-record 1,686 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.

Lerner visited McGahee at HealthSouth Doctors Hospital on Monday.

"He was a little surprised to see me," Lerner said. "But he had a smile on his face. He wouldn't have taken this out if he was 100 percent sure he wasn't going to get hurt. I think it's very unfortunate that he was minutes away from a big payday in the NFL and now that situation is changed. But he did make a smart, intelligent decision."

Lerner most recently paid out a $1 million, tax-free policy to former University of Florida defensive tackle Ed Chester, who suffered a career-ending knee injury in a game against LSU in 1998.

About 70 football players are part of the NCAA Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program, according to Juanita Sheely, travel and insurance coordinator for the NCAA. The NCAA provides athletes, who are projected to be picked in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, with a loan to take out a premium. Sheely declined to say if McGahee had insurance through the NCAA's program, administered by ASU International.

Penni Key, associate athletic director of compliance at the University of Miami, said that athletes are encouraged to look at the NCAA's program as opposed to outside underwriters because the school wants to make sure that an agent isn't paying a premium for the athlete, which would be an NCAA violation. Key said that about five University of Miami football players are covered by some insurance policy each season.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for, can be reached at

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