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.