So much for earning your stripes or even waiting your turn patiently.
West Virginia true freshman running back Dustin Garrison, and two classmates, Andrew Buie and Vernard Roberts, have been thrown directly into the fire at the Mountaineers’ fall camp. All signs point to one of them being in the backfield when WVU opens the season hosting Marshall, Sunday, Sept. 4. And, at times, they may all get a shot.
All of which came as a surprise to the young back out of Texas.
“I was expecting to let the older guys do their thing, and me and Andrew (would) sit in the back and watch,” Garrison said. “But when me and Andrew got here, we were the ones taking most of the reps.
“Whether it’s in the offensive meeting room learning the plays or out there on the field making plays, we both have the mindset that we have to compete for this job. It’s just not me and Andrew competing. We’ve got Vernard and Trey (Johnson).”
If you are keeping score at home, that’s three true freshmen and a true sophomore (Johnson).
If you are into numbers, check out what Garrison did at Pearland High School in Texas last year. The numbers almost look like a video game.
He had 406 carries for 2,842 yards and 46 touchdowns (all school records) for the 5A state championship team, which finished 16-0.
For a guy playing at 5 feet 9, 160 pounds, that was quite a workload.
Garrison is used to the punishment.
“Ever since I was young, I played with the older guys,” Garrison said. “Even in Little League, I was 5 years old playing with guys 6,7, 8 years old. Since then, it’s carried on that I can take a hit from guys a lot older than me. I don’t know. It’s like once you get hit, you just have to get back up and come out swinging. It’s something I’ve been used to.”
He has already gained 20 pounds since reporting, six of those in near miraculous fashion.
“The first week, it came really fast,” Garrison said. “I remember the first day, after the first workout, the next day I was six pounds heavier. That first week, it was really tough, but after a while, it slowly started catching on. (Strength coach) Mike (Joseph) and the strength staff really put the pounds on.”
And it has not slowed the Texas schoolboy standout.
“It really hasn’t affected my running game,” Garrison said. “I still have the quickness I had before.”
The three freshmen and Johnson all seem to bring something different to the table. Garrison knows his strength.
“I think it’s my patience,” Garrison said. “Whenever I get the ball, I’m not running down full speed. I’m trying to find a hole. I can tell Holgorsen really sees that in me. When I get the ball, I’m waiting for a hole. And when there isn’t one, you’ve just got to make one.”
Sounds more like another famous Garrison of Texas running back lore — the Cowboys Walt Garrison.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie has challenged that toughness, wanting to see what the youngsters can take.
“He even went in by himself and worked with me and Buie, one-on-one,” Garrison said. “He even knocked Buie down a couple times, and he was over there trying to sling me. It was tough the first day, but we started getting used to it.”
Blocking is paramount for the backs. Quarterback Geno Smith, the only experienced QB on the team, must be protected.
And that means more work for the smallish backs who make up the Mountaineers’ backfield.
“Certain days, we have individual periods, and it’s the linebackers versus the backs, trying to pass block,” Garrison said. “We’ve got some big linebackers, and for little guys like me, Buie and Vernard, it’s hard to block those guys. But coach Gillespie, he shows us technique, what we need to do and how to do. And if we do it the right way, it can be done. It’s been shown on the field. If you have the perfect technique, you can do it. As a freshman, I feel I have to prove a lot, to the coaches and to the linebackers.”
He feels he can contribute not only in the run game, but in the passing game as well
“In practice, whenever we work on swing passes, I’m one of the main guys that goes in there and does a lot of that,” Garrison said. “It’s probably swing passes, long passes, stuff like that.”
He played receiver as a sophomore at Pearland, just to get on the field.
Admittedly, it was a disaster.
“I couldn’t catch worth crap,” Garrison said. “My hands were horrible. I was focusing real hard to catch it, and I would drop it. But I started getting better. I had a good receivers coach. He taught me a few things. That’s what got me to learn how to catch the ball.”
It will be an invaluable tool in Dana Holgorsen’s offense.
He has already been rewarded by getting his old high school number, 29.
“For me to come here and get the same number I’ve had for the last four or five years is great,” Garrison said. “That’s how I knew this place was for me. Not just the number, the whole thing.”
Gillespie came to WVU with Holgorsen, and when he told Garrison he was getting a new job, he wanted the back to come with him.
“I was like, ‘All right, can you let me know where you’re going?’ He told me to watch the bowl game, and I find out coach Holgorsen and Gillespie are going to West Virginia. He called the next day and said, ‘Did you figure it out?’”
Garrison not only figured it out. He came and he loved what he saw.
“It was the first time I saw actual, real snow,” Garrison said. “It was a surprise. But I liked the atmosphere, the town and the people.”
With his attitude, the back who turned down offers from Pitt, Washington State and Colorado is sure to become a WVU fan favorite.
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