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Garrison Healthy, Ready to Rebound for WVU

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MORGANTOWN -

A season like West Virginia experienced this past fall would seem to drag on for any number of players, coaches and fans who cared to see the team perform well.

Watching the promise of a 5-0 start collapse into a 7-6 finish could take a toll on anyone associated with the program, but how about a player who felt that he could help the team and never got the chance?

This is where Dustin Garrison comes in.

The rising junior running back was the unquestioned starter as a freshman before a knee injury forced him to miss the Orange Bowl and the entire spring that followed it. He worked over the summer to get back on the practice field for the start of fall camp, but he was a step slow and had to come along at a lesser pace than those around him.

Garrison became a training room warrior, constantly receiving treatment to mend the knee and return to his former self in an effort to join his teammates on the field and make a difference.

Through the five-game winning streak, he toted the ball just eight times for 32 yards. The following time out on the field, when things began to fall apart at Texas Tech, Garrison got a season-high nine carries and took one to the end zone. Against Kansas State, he rushed for 54 yards.

Garrison kept his helmet on and his head up, waiting for his turn, but more often than not, it didn't come.

"It definitely was hard," says the 5-foot-9, 166-pound back. "At the beginning of the season, I felt like my mind was ready to play and at times, my body wasn't. Every week, I felt better and better and my knee felt better and better and toward the middle of the season, I would say, is when I started feeling 100 percent and sitting on the sidelines and watching and just waiting for my turn to get on the field, it was hard. I kind of keep that in the back of my mind while I practice every day for spring ball."

Just as he did in the days and weeks immediately following his injury, Garrison looked to his family to help him through the difficult times. Words of wisdom from his mother kept Garrison focused on what was ahead, not what laid in the past.

"My mom always told me, no matter what happens, just keep your head up," Garrison says. "Everything happens for a reason. So, I kind of lived through that. No matter if I don't get to touch the ball as many times as I want, or things don't go my way, it's just going to happen. You just kind of learn from it."

Now he runs through drills with no hesitation, more than a year removed from the surgery, he moves as he did before he ever suffered the injury.

Somehow, the kid out of Pearland, Texas has become a veteran leader in the meeting room and a player who new running backs coach JaJuan Seider looks to for help as he adjusts to the role.

"It's like having an extra coach in there with me in the room," Seider said of Garrison and fellow junior rusher Andrew Buie.

A brand new coach brings no preconceptions of his group. Seider kept tabs on the Mountaineers since he once played at West Virginia, but he won't be making his decisions on the players who make it onto the field based on what he saw on television or on film of last season.

The running back competition will play out on the field this spring and into the fall and each of those vying for the position will get a look from their new coach.

"[Seider] does a great job getting us all equal reps with the ones, the twos or the threes, so it is a clean slate for a lot of us," says Garrison. "He's not really going to base his opinion on film from last year or the year before. It's just about what we can do now."

Garrison believes that the ball carriers lining up behind the quarterback this year are dynamic in that there are a variety of body types and skill sets that should make them a threatening group as a whole.

Despite the disappointments of a lost sophomore season, his hope this fall is that he can do exactly what the Mountaineers need from him and that he will perform his task with 100 percent effort and 100 percent health.

"I just have one goal and that's to win games," says Garrison. "Whatever it takes for us to win games as a team, if I need one touchdown and that wins us the game, then I did my job."

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