It’s been a long eight months for West Virginia University sophomore running back Dustin Garrison
The Mountaineers' leading rusher in 2011 as a freshman spent that time rehabbing a left knee that he injured just days before the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl game against Clemson. Thursday’s preseason practice was the first time he’s put on a helmet since his injury.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was great just being able to get back out there with the guys. It’s the first time I’ve been able to do that since before the bowl game. I was all smiles the whole time.”
Garrison was all frowns the day after he first got injured last December.
“The next day after I got hurt I was in my [hotel] room and guys were going to the [Miami] Heat game and I didn’t want to go so I just stayed home,” Garrison recalled. “I stayed there and I called my mom because I was so down and depressed, but she was there to talk to me and keep me focused and let me know that everything happens for a reason.”
Garrison’s mother was also there for him after his surgery and also through his entire rehabilitation process.
“She always calls and texts me, sending me things,” Garrison said.
Garrison was able to talk to teammate Josh Jenkins
and assistant director of football operations Quincy Wilson about what he could expect during his recovery period. Both went through similar situations during their careers and both said it would be a long and arduous process.
“I was focused throughout the whole recovery process,” said Garrison.
During the time he was unable to put weight on his leg, Garrison said he devoted extra work to his upper body in the weight room; the results are clearly noticeable today.
“I want to say toward the end of January is when I started training again and I was in my knee brace and I wasn’t able to do any lower body stuff, so for a good three weeks it was straight upper body and I definitely got stronger,” Garrison said.
In fact, some of the coaches had a difficult time recognizing him.
“Coach [Robert] Gillespie and Coach [Dana] Holgorsen, I remember they came up to me and they saw me from the back and they were like ‘who is that guy?’ I turned around and they saw that my upper body has gotten a lot stronger. I feel like I’m stronger than before.”
When he was first cleared to start running again, Garrison admits he almost had to re-teach himself how to run.
“At first I did but once I got out there it was just like auto pilot – taking the right steps, taking the right reads, following my blocks,” he said. “The guys are telling me that I’m back to were I was.”
Now, he will spend the next few weeks testing out his surgically repaired knee. Will it be able to cut on it consistently? Will he be able to elude tacklers in space? Will he be able to start and stop the way he did as a freshman? Will he be able to go through two-a-day practices? Those are questions that don’t really concern him right now.
“I’m not really worried about anything,” he said. “I’m just out there running like nothing ever happened. Cutting is fine. Everything is fine. The only thing that really bothers me is sudden stops. That’s not really too bad, just a little aggravation with the knee brace because I’m still trying to get used to it.”
It will also be important for Garrison to let the training staff know when he’s not feeling right or something is bothering him with his knee. Toughing things out can turn a minor deal into a major situation.
“The strength staff and the training staff tell me to let them know how I feel and I know [strength coach] Mike Joseph and all of them feel like I lie to them a little bit and tell them everything is feeling alright,” Garrison said. “But honestly, I feel like I’m 100 percent.”
And when it’s time for him to take that first hit again?
“I’ve been thinking about it but I’m just ready to get back out on the field and practice ad play with my teammates and try and make plays this year,” he concluded.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores this fall. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.
In case you haven’t heard, expectations are nearing an all-time high around here when it comes to Mountaineer football. Putting 70 on the scoreboard in the Orange Bowl and having most of the guys responsible for those 70 points returning has a way of getting people all revved up.
A week ago, inaugural member West Virginia was predicted to finish second behind Oklahoma in the always-tough Big 12 Conference. And then earlier today, the USA Today Coaches’ Poll came out with the Mountaineers checking in at No. 11.
Second-year coach Dana Holgorsen said the topic of expectations did come up during his first preseason meeting with the team on Wednesday.
“We had administrative, compliance and team meetings where we went over rules,” Holgorsen said. “We addressed expectations and we told them we’re going to handle expectations like we did last year going into the Clemson game.”
What Holgorsen had his team do last December before the Orange Bowl was tune everything else out and simply focus on the task at hand.
“We didn’t care what you guys [media members] wrote or what the media was saying on TV,” he explained. “It’s the same thing now – expectations are high, which we like, but we’re not going to pay attention to it.”
Some coaches here in the past such as Don Nehlen shunned lofty expectations while others like Rich Rodriguez embraced it. If you mentioned preseason polls to Nehlen he would give you his are-you-out-of-your-mind look before either moving on to the next question or abruptly ending any further questioning, depending on the mood he was in.
On the other hand, Rodriguez never shied away from preseason hype and would talk openly about seeking the spotlight and wanting his players to seek it as well.
Holgorsen probably falls somewhere in the middle, understanding the value of lofty preseason expectations but also understanding that it can become poisonous to his players if they take in too much of it.
“It’s important to be in the top 20,” Holgorsen admitted. “The top 20 teams get more recognition, so it’s good to be there. Are we going to talk about it? Probably not. It’s an honor to be there, and it’s good for the program and good publicity, but it’s not going to change anything we do. We’re not going to throw a party or anything.”
The most important thing, in Holgorsen’s opinion, is making sure each and every player comes to work every day with the goal of improving.
“How you handle expectations is you just do your job,” he said. “We talked to them about focusing hard on making themselves better on all three sides of the ball.”
We will find that out soon enough.Briefly:
- Holgorsen said Thursday evening that three members of last February’s signing class are likely going to prep school – Sam Lebbie, Deontay McManus and Dee Joyner – and a fourth, Roshard Burney, is still trying to get here.
- Several players out with injuries during the spring were back on the field and moving around without and any restrictions.
“Terence [Garvin] looked like Terence, and he is out there moving around,” Holgorsen said. “Dustin [Garrison] looked good. Jewone Snow
was a shoulder thing, so we’ll see when he pops the pads. Pat Miller
is back and ready to go.”
Garrison, who severely injured his knee just days before last January’s Orange Bowl, was wearing a knee brace today but seemed to be cutting without any problems. Last year as a true freshman, Garrison led all Mountaineer ball carriers with 742 yards.
“He looked like he was cutting pretty good, but it’s the hitting that people need to get over,” Holgorsen said. “Not only him, but the rest of the guys who were injured.”
- Last year when fall camp began, Holgorsen was forced to do a lot of the throwing because West Virginia didn’t have enough quarterbacks in camp to adequate run all of the drills. Now, with five quarterbacks in the fold, Holgorsen can retire his arm and let his quarterbacks do all of the passing.
“A lot of those drills we do require five guys to throw it,” he said. “It alleviates some of the every-down throwing that Geno [Smith] and Paul [Millard] do. Long term, it should really help us because we can get better from a drill standpoint and not wear out Geno’s and Paul’s arm.”
- Last August, the concern was about installing a new offensive system and having all of the players on the same page. Fast forward 365 days and that concern shifts to the new defensive system Joe DeForest is implementing. In both cases, Holgorsen said the objective is the same – getting as many people on board and on the same page as possible.
“The conference we’re going to is going to require us to play more people. It’s going to require us to play more people on defense and special teams,” Holgorsen said. “What you mean by more people is getting the freshmen involved. It’s going to be a work in progress, no question.”
Also at this time last year, Holgorsen was dealing with low scholarship numbers because of attrition and entering this year he says the Mountaineers are getting closer to having their full allotment of 85 scholarship players.
“I think we’re at 79 or 80,” he noted. “Guys are still in school and they have another week of school. There are a couple of guys that need to finish strong from an academic standpoint. If we retain all of our guys and signed all of our guys, we’d be in much better shape than we were last year. Hopefully next year we can get that up to 85 – that’s the goal.”
Practice continues on Friday.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores this fall. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.