By Cam Huffman
While football prognosticators have picked West Virginia University to finish anywhere from 4-8 to 9-3 this fall, most can agree on one thing. The Mountaineers are loaded at running back.
Houston transfer Charles Sims, who rushed for 851 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, is expected to be the star. He was already picked as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and is labeled by most draft experts as a major NFL prospect.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have his services for one year,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen at the Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, Texas, earlier this week. “He’s a great kid, and he’s a tremendous football player. I was fortunate to be able to be involved with recruiting him when I was at Houston, and I had him for the first year there in 2009.
“He knows what I’m all about. He knows how I coach. He knows what our offense is about. He knew he’d be able to come in and fit in and get an opportunity to play in the Big 12. That was his motive.”
WVU is also adding Junior College transfer Dreamius Smith to its backfield mix. The junior played two seasons at Butler Community College and helped the team to a NJCAA national championship in 2011 and an appearance in the title game last season, when he rushed for 984 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Back from last year’s team is leading rusher Andrew Buie, a speedy junior who rushed for 851 yards for the Mountaineers in 2012.
Almost lost in the shuffle is Dustin Garrison — you know, the Garrison who led WVU in rushing as a freshman in 2010 with 742 yards and had 291 yards in one game that season, scoring a pair of touchdowns in that matchup with Bowling Green.
Garrison’s rookie season, though, ended with a knee injury during practice for the Orange Bowl, and he never quite returned to form last season, still battling the injury. He finished the year with 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but he was never able to carry the load the way he did the year before.
Now, heading into his junior year, the Pearland, Texas, native is often left off the preseason discussions about WVU’s rushing corps. But the 5-foot-8, 182-pounder is determined not to play the role of Wally Pipp — the New York Yankees first baseman who sat out with an injury and watched Lou Gehrig start the next 2,130 consecutive games in his place.
“Competition brings out the best in everyone,” said Garrison, taking a positive approach toward WVU’s crowded backfield. “Whenever you have that much depth, you always try to beat out the next guy. It’s going to be a competitive camp, but that should be fun for everybody.”
Garrison, who gave credit to WVU strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph for helping him finally reach a point where he’s feeling no pain in his knee and is 100 percent healthy, thinks the depth can be used as a strength and that the Mountaineers’ offense may look a little different because of those talented backs.
“I definitely see a lot more running this year,” he said. “We have a lot of good backs, and we’re going to bring some different elements to the running game. I feel like (Coach) Holgorsen has a plan to get all of us on the field this year.”
And after spending most of 2012 on the sidelines, Garrison can’t wait to get there.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited than I am right now to play football,” said the 2010 Touchdown Club of Houston Offensive Player of the Year, who rushed for 4,261 yards and 62 touchdowns in his Pearland High School Career, leading his team to a Texas 5A state championship as a senior. “I want to get out on the field and make plays.
“It’s going to be a fun came and a great season. A lot of guys are hungry to get out there and show what they can do.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.