By Dave Morrison
West Virginia true freshman running back Dustin Garrison is no stranger to adversity.
So having just three carries in the first three games — all against Norfolk State for 19 yards and his first career touchdown — was nothing to the Mountaineers’ first-year player.
That he ran for a freshman record and tied Kerry Marbury for second with a single-game 291-yard performance Saturday against Bowling Green in the Mountaineers’ 55-10 win?
That was just a day at the office.
It was all about getting a chance.
And he knows about running with an opportunity.
Garrison was in seventh grade when Hurricane Katrina bashed his native New Orleans. Talk about taking a hard hit.
“We evacuated a couple days before (Katrina hit),” Garrison said. “We went to my aunt’s house in Houston.
“We finally got a hotel room somewhere and they had a family going around getting hotel rooms for people. They ran into my mom and my dad and they asked where we were staying.”
Turns out, the Garrisons weren’t sure.
“My mom told them we had one more day in our hotel room, we still couldn’t go back (to New Orleans) and we were running out of money,” Garrison recalled. “They offered us to live with them in Pearland (Texas).
“My mom liked it, she liked the schools, and we finally got our own house.”
And a star was born.
At Pearland, a 5A school, Garrison became one of the most reliable backs in the football-crazed state.
As a senior, he had 406 carries for 2,842 yards and 46 touchdowns. And he had 36 receptions. All on a 5-foot-8, 175-pound frame.
Problem is, nobody really noticed.
Robert Gillespie, coaching at Oklahoma State with Dana Holgorsen, did.
“You put the tape on and he was a kid who carried the ball a lot and played in a big-time program,” Gillespie said. “He made plays. He wasn’t heavily recruited because of his size but you put the tape on, you could tell he could play.”
He showed that Saturday, with 32 carries, 291 yards, two touchdowns and a long run of 42 yards.
It was just high school for Garrison, who wears 29 for a special reason.
“Being from New Orleans, (Katrina) hit August 29 (2005),” Garrison said. “When I moved to Texas they asked me what number I wanted and I said 29, to represent everything that happened. It’s a great feeling to know that I can still wear the number and for everyone to know what it represents.”
His teammates certainly respect Garrison.
“From Day 1 this kid has been humble and he’s been working hard,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “In the offseason workouts, before I’d even seen him carry the ball, I was impressed by him. He came right in and picked up the speed of the offense and that’s something freshmen normally don’t do. If he stays humble and keeps working hard, he’s going to be special.
Even the other backs were pulling for Garrison Saturday.
“I wanted to see him get 300,” Alston said. “I didn’t know what the record was, but I was hoping he was going to get it. I think he did a good job of coming out there and running the ball. I knew he was capable of it by the way he works in practice. Just watching the film every day of practice, I knew he was capable of that.”
Garrison’s 291 yards was just 12 shy of what WVU had as a team through the first four games.
The total was a bit overwhelming to Garrison, but he knew he had his opportunity.
“Not 291, but I knew I had a lot to prove,” Garrison said. “Coach Gillespie and coach Holgorsen were kind of waiting for me to do something. I think I proved myself out there.”
And he did that by reverting to his high school form.
“Dustin was able to make some people miss,” Gillespie said. “And one part of his game I liked today was he was physical. I challenge him all the time. I tell him, ‘I want you to be the Dustin from Texas, that played 5A ball and carried the ball almost 500 times. Be a physical back.’ So I was impressed to see him be physical and get some yards after contact.”
Holgorsen said that Garrison wasn’t guaranteed the job “forever,” and Garrison knows he has to keep producing.
So far Garrison has 356 yards and four touchdowns.
“I just have to go out there and practice with the same attitude” Garrison said. “If it requires me to have another 200-yard game, I’ll do it.”
If he does, the carries will keep coming.
“I tell those guys, ‘Every Saturday you have a chance to go out and become a legend,’” Gillespie said. “He took advantage of the opportunity. All those guys know if you work hard in practice, you’re going to get a chance to play. He got in there and was able to break some long runs.”
— E-mail: demorrison@