Dustin Garrison Makes Satisfying Return to Field - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Dustin Garrison Makes Satisfying Return to Field

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MORGANTOWN -

Dana Holgorsen may tell you that Thursday's first day of preseason camp was not football. Without pads to wear or hits to be absorbed, the game as it should be was not present on the field.

But don't tell that to Dustin Garrison. The opening of camp was the first time the sophomore running back has taken part in any official team drills since December.

It was the first time he put on a helmet and put in work under the watchful eye of his coaching staff since before he had to miss out on the team's last game.

"It was a lot of fun," Garrison said Friday. "It's great being able to go back out there, get back out there with the guys – it was the first time I've been able to do that since before the bowl game. I went out there and it was fun. I was all smiles the whole time."

Garrison has been fighting back to full strength after suffering sprains in both his ACL and MCL on his left leg during preparation for the Orange Bowl.

The team's leading rusher in his first season with West Virginia, he admits that the days and weeks following his injury and the subsequent surgery took a toll on him mentally as much as physically.

A day after realizing that he would not take the field with the rest of the Mountaineers in their postseason meeting with the Clemson Tigers, some of Garrison's teammates spoke to the media about how good of spirits he was in as they tried talking him through the setback.

Either they were just covering up for their fallen brother, or he did a fantastic acting job, because Garrison recounts his emotions that following day differently now.

"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," says Garrison. "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."

In fact, Garrison credits his mother with giving him much of the strength that he needed to persevere through the hard times and get himself back to where he could put on his helmet Thursday and practice without restrictions.

"She's always been there," he says. "She was there when I had my surgery; she was there toward the beginning of my treatment and my recovery and all that stuff."

Both of Garrison's parents are outspoken in their support for their son and the university he represents. As he continued to heal, the motivation he received from family and friends and the Morgantown community pushed him each step of the way.

A non-contact injury, Garrison has every right to fear the first cutback he makes in practice or the slightest hit below his waist, but he does not. The exuberance with which he takes the field after so long away from it is enough to overcome any apprehension that may otherwise accompany him between the lines.

"I'm not really worried about anything, I'm just out there running like nothing ever happened," Garrison says. "Cutting is fine, everything is fine. The only thing that really bothers me is sudden stops, but that's not really too bad, it's just a little aggravation with the knee brace because I'm still getting used to it."

When Garrison walked into the team meeting room Friday, he did so with an ice bag on either knee. He said in the time that he has been rehabbing, the extra work on his left knee has gotten it to the point where it has nearly surpassed his right in strength.

In speaking with the athletic training staff, he knows that now he must treat them both equally in order to progress past the rehabilitation period and get back to normal workouts.

He says he is currently near 100 percent, but until he reaches that point, he will come in for extra work even when his teammates may have the day off from lifting. For much of the offseason, his lifts were for upper body more than lower, and the results are showing.

"I feel like I've gotten a lot stronger," he says. "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. I did that for three weeks and that was just straight upper body. I definitely got a lot stronger and I gained a lot of weight."

Garrison laughs as he recalls a day when both Coach Holgorsen and running back coach Robert Gillespie saw him with his back turned and did not recognize him due to the mass he had put on. He hopes the added strength can help him push around some of his would-be tacklers in the fall.

For now, he continues to work a little harder, knowing what he missed in Miami and what he missed in the spring right here in Morgantown.

Thursday was just a start, but it was a start Garrison has been waiting quite some time to make.

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