By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Outside, the sun shone brightly, just as it is supposed to do in Miami Beach, Fla., for the snowbirds of the North who have come south to escape all their problems.
Inside Dustin Garrison’s room, though, there was nothing but darkness, shades drawn on the windows and on his life.
His friends, his West Virginia University teammates, had plans to attend the Miami Heat game that evening, to see LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but he said no, he didn’t feel like going. He didn’t feel like doing much of anything, considering just one day earlier his entire life plunged into the darkness as he blew out his knee while making a cut in preparation for an Orange Bowl game that would end up a 70-33 rout over Clemson.
“Guys were going to the (NBA’s Miami) Heat game, and honestly, I didn’t want to go, so I just stayed in the hotel,” Garrison said on Friday, his second practice on his reconstructed knee about to be held. “I stayed there, and I called my mom. I was so down and depressed or whatever, but she was there to talk to me and all and keep me focused and let me know that everything happens for a reason.”
Again there was sun in his life for he was back practicing football, running on his reconstructed knee, in need no more of help from his mother, the one person he felt carried him through the darkest moments.
“My mom (Shondalon Guillot), she’s always been there,” he said. “She was there when I had my surgery. She was there when I began my treatment. She was there in my recovery. She’s always calling and texting me and sending me links on the things that are being said.”
That, of course, is what mothers do. Fathers may be out there in the back yard throwing a football around with you, coaching your sporting teams, teaching you this or teaching you that, but when it comes that time when you are at the bottom, where your spirits have sagged and you need something more than an “atta boy,” that’s when mothers come to the rescue.
In Garrison’s case, the day after surgery was probably the lowest point he’d ever felt. As they do these days, they try to get you rehabilitating as quickly as they can following surgery to repair an ACL, get you doing what you can do.
The problem was, Garrison could do nothing.
“The day after my surgery, I was supposed to do some rehab, and I couldn’t lift my leg. It was like straight, and I couldn’t even use my quad,” he said.
A running back without the use of his leg is not a running back at all, and he began to sulk.
“She was there ... ‘Pick that leg up; you’re fine.’ She was there coaching me up,” he said.
And now, eight months later, he has returned to the field, dressed in a white jersey for the opening practice, a sign that he was not restricted from doing anything.
“It was like a lot of fun, being out there with the guys. It’s the first time I’d done that since before the bowl game,” he said.
And, he says, he’s back 100 percent to the runner who just missed a 300-yard day against Bowling Green when he ran for 291 yards in that victory.
“I’m not really worried about anything. I’m out there running like nothing ever happened. Cutting is fine; everything is fine,” he said.
The only reminders are the scar that was left behind and the knee brace he now is sporting.
“The only thing that probably bothers me is sudden stops, and that’s not too aggravating because it’s really the knee brace, which I’m still trying to get used to,” he said.
Garrison hasn’t taken the first hit yet, and that may be a while coming, but he isn’t worried about it, in part because the injury didn’t come from contact, simply from getting his leg twisted on a cut, and partly because the surgically repaired knee is as strong or stronger than the other one because of the work he put in rehabilitating it.
There is another reason, too, and that is because he is bigger and heavier this year, in part thanks to the injury.
“At the end of January I was training again. I was in my knee brace and couldn’t do things with the leg yet, so I did a lot of upper-body stuff. That’s when I gained a lot of strength and added a lot of weight,” he said.
So much so that one day while he was working out, head coach Dana Holgorsen and running backs coach Robert Gillespie, came up from behind him and failed to recognize him.
“They were saying, ‘Who is that guy?’ It was me,” he said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.