With half of his college career now over, West Virginia University junior running back Dustin Garrison
can finally say he’s taken part in spring football drills.
Hard to believe, isn’t it?
The Pearland, Texas resident has been on the fast track ever since being a late discovery by the Mountaineer coaching staff after tearing it up in the 2010 Texas high school playoffs.
Garrison led his high school team to a 16-0 record as a senior, running for more than 4,000 career yards while earning Greater Houston area player of the year honors at Texas powerhouse Pearland High.
Right away, he was in the mix at running back because West Virginia had a dearth of backs after Noel Devine graduated. That meant most of Garrison’s focus from week to week during his rookie year was on game planning rather than personal development.
He still performed well, running for a career-best 291 yards in a blowout victory over Bowling Green and finishing the regular season with a team-best 742 yards. However, just days before West Virginia’s Orange Bowl game against Clemson, Garrison severely injured his left knee during a non-contact drill that required surgery. Not only was he done for the Orange Bowl, spring football was also out of the question and his 2012 season was in jeopardy. Garrison did eventually make it back in time for the season, but he managed just 207 yards and two touchdowns in limited action.
It was obvious to everyone that the old darting, weaving Dustin Garrison
that we saw during his freshman year in 2011 was basically non-existent in 2012. Today, he admits the knee was always in the back of his mind whenever he had to make sharp cuts or navigate his way through heavy traffic.
“The thing about last year was just my mind,” Garrison said recently. “I was ready to play but out there I was thinking about making a cut. I thought I was going to get hurt or something like that, but right now I’m just out there playing again. I’m having fun and I’m not worried about injuries or anything like that.”
Garrison has had the luxury to learn and develop this spring … finally.
“I’ve been here for two years but never participated in spring ball,” he noted. “It’s weird though because I couldn’t really tell the freshmen what it’s like and what to expect. I was out there learning just like they were.”
Garrison wrapped up a successful 2013 spring with a team-best 51 yards rushing in this year’s spring game. Garrison and fellow junior Andrew Buie
are two of the most experienced players on West Virginia’s offense, and those two guys will be counted on to take on more of a leadership role this fall.
“I feel like we have to do a little bit more than we did last year,” Garrison said. “We have a bigger role, I guess you could say. (Coach Dana) Holgorsen expects us to be more vocal than we were last year when we were pretty much learning with Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke in our meeting room. Now, we are teaching more than anything and I think that’s what everyone expects from guys like me and Buie who have played.”
For the first time since Garrison’s arrival in 2011, the program finally has some depth at the running back position. Buie was the team’s top ground gainer last year with 851 yards, including a career high 207 yards at Texas, and the Mountaineers added a pair of good backs in junior college transfer Dreamius Smith
and prep standout Wendell Smallwood
Those four guys bring different skills to the table.
“Right now we have the amount of guys we need,” said Garrison. “I think we’re doing a great job with the amount of guys we have and Coach (JaJuan) Seider did a great job of rotating us, trying to give us all the amount of reps we needed to evaluate us. Depth is not an issue right now.”
Holgorsen has said his goal was to spend more time developing the running game this spring. That meant more opportunities for Garrison, Buie, Smith and Smallwood.
“I think right now we are still at a balance, but at the same time I think running-wise we’re getting most of the attention,” said Garrison. “We’ve got Dreamius and also Wendell who just came into the room, so it’s great to have that kind of competition and that is making not only our group better, but our team better, too.”
Holgorsen has always been known for coming up with creative ways of getting his playmakers the football. People around here will forever recall how Holgorsen moved slot receiver Tavon Austin to running back to take advantage of the way Oklahoma was defending West Virginia’s passing game. Austin ended up threatening the NCAA all-purpose yardage record with 572 total yards (344 of those on the ground) against the Sooners.
For that matter, the coach has always maximized his talent and if he’s got a running back room full of good players, you can bet he will come up with imaginative ways of getting them the football this year.
“The running backs are going to catch passes out of the backfield and things like that or help the line block,” said Garrison. “That will only make our offense better.”
So, would Garrison be willing to line up someplace other than running back if the situation calls for it?
“If that’s what it takes to win games I think I can do that,” he said. “We haven’t really talked about it too much, but I feel like if I have to do it I think I could do a good job.”
He’s not the only one who feels that way.