The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

April 14, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Garrison still proving he can carry the ball

MORGANTOWN — The running back raves from the West Virginia coaching this spring have been directly mostly toward Wendell Smallwood, and rest assured he earned every one of them with his versatility, but it was a reborn running back who well may have taken the biggest jump up the depth chart.

Dustin Garrison, he of the 291-yard game against Bowling Green as a freshman, rose not only from near the bottom of the depth chart but also from the depths of depression as he fought through a knee injury to regain a position of prominence in the Mountaineer running schemes.

Once the WVU starting running back, Garrison came into spring practice with much to prove.

“At a position like running back you always have to prove yourself,” he said after leading WVU with 47 tough yards on 10 carries while also delivering some devastating blocks in Saturday’s Gold-Blue Spring Game. “There’s always other guys there, a recruit coming in trying to take another spot. This is especially true after injury.

“And even when I do prove myself,” he continued, “I feel like I have to continue with a chip on my shoulder to prove I’m ready for football.”

You have to understand what Garrison has been through to appreciate where he now is, a treasured asset in a backfield full of prized running backs.

As a true freshman, he was WVU’s leading rusher; while never reaching 100 yards other than against a dreadful Bowling Green defense, it must be remembered he was playing on the Geno Smith-Tavon Austin-Stedman Bailey Mountaineers.

Then, preparing for the bowl meeting with Clemson that would wind up a 70-33 WVU rout, Garrison suffered a serious knee injury that required surgery.

“It was really tough for me. That time of my life was really hard. I was going through some depression. It was a good thing people had my back,” he said.

His biggest supporter was his mother, Shondalon Guillot.

“I talked to my mom a lot. She was always there for me to make sure my head was all right. She told me, you got to keep your head on straight. You have to keep fighting. Something good is going to happen eventually,” he said.

“Her support and assistance and constantly making sure I never got down helped me continue to fight. With this past spring, I carried the attitude everything was going to be better. My body was feeling right and I knew I had to prove to everyone, including myself, I was ready to play football again. That’s what I’ve been doing this past spring.”

He came back looking as though he was a better player, a more complete player, than he had been before the injury his freshman year.

“With the competition, with all the great backs in there, that makes you run harder, block harder, catch everything thrown to you. That’s one thing that helped me become a better football player, having a room full of great backs,” he said.

Competition comes along with the job and Garrison accepts it as such.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of it. It’s only going to make us better football players and better people in the world,” he said. “That constant competition, fighting to be the one, fighting to have the position on the field is only going to make things better.

“You never want anything handed to you. You only want to fight to make things better.”

And that is just what he has done this spring, rounding out his game.

“You have to be good in every area of your game, not just running. Blocking is one area where I’ve gotten better. Finishing my run is another area. There are times I know I’m about to go down where I keep my feet moving and lower my shoulders and try to move the pile,” he said.

The running back position seems to be WVU’s deepest. It has two backs in Garrison and Andrew Buie, who have been the team’s leading rushers for a season; a versatile do-everything back in Wendell Smallwood to assume Charles Sims’ role; and two bigger backs in Dreamius Smith and Pitt transfer Rushel Shell to do the heavy work.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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