Dustin Garrison missed the Mountaineers' Orange Bowl win after injuring his knee in practice.
MORGANTOWN - When Dustin Garrison arrived at the Puskar Center for West Virginia's first full-contact drills of preseason camp earlier this week, he was greeted by the last thing he wanted to see.There in his locker was a green practice jersey."I definitely didn't want to see that,'' West Virginia's sophomore running back said. "I saw that in my locker and I thought, 'Oh, no.' I told [running backs coach Robert] Gillespie after the first couple of days I wanted white.''Forgive West Virginia's coaches and trainers if they're a bit cautious where Garrison is concerned. After blowing out his knee in practice the week before January's Orange Bowl, it took reconstructive surgery to make him right again.The green jersey was a nod to that. Normally, West Virginia's offensive players wear white. Green is for those players who will be limited in what they are allowed to do in practice. But at least it wasn't a red jersey, which means standing to the side and just watching.Indeed, after a few days Garrison was back in a white jersey. That means defenders aren't limited in what they can do to him. He's since taken a few hits, bounced back up and been no worse for wear.That's just what he wanted all along - to be able to take a hit and see what it was like.
"Now I know what it's like again and that I can handle it,'' Garrison said. "Now I have to just get back up and make more plays. I still get a little sore once in a while, but that comes with it.''There is, of course, one concession to the knee injury that Garrison can't avoid. As he battles Andrew Buie and Shawne Alston for the job as West Virginia's No. 1 tailback, he does so with a brace on his injured knee."I don't like it. I hate it,'' Garrison said. "But the trainers and all those guys want me to use it just for precautionary reasons. I'd rather not use it, but I'm getting used to it.''Does it hinder his ability to move and cut? Well, to a point.
"It hurt the first couple of days because it took some getting used to,'' Garrison said. "While I'm in it it just feels kind of heavy and I can't open up as much as I want. But after a few days I got used to it.''Like anyone who has come back from reconstructive knee surgery, Garrison is naturally cautious. But he also wishes sometimes everyone would just forget about his knee and just let him play. Wearing the knee brace is one example."Sometimes I think it is [necessary to wear it], but at the same time I don't,'' Garrison said. "There are some days when I think I'm going to need it, that I'm just not feeling [good]. But there are days when I feel fine without it. But those guys know what they're doing and I trust them. They know what I need to do to be OK.''With all the talk about Garrison talking hits and bouncing back up, sometimes lost in the discussion is the fact that it wasn't a hit that sent him to surgery. He wasn't cut down from the side or rolled onto by some massive lineman or a charging linebacker.
He simply planted his foot and cut and the knee went out.That's perhaps the hardest thing Garrison has to deal with. He doesn't much worry about getting hit now after it's happened a few times, but there is always the concern that when he makes that same cut - or any cut, for that matter - something might happen again."I've been working on my confidence, but I get a little nervous when I'm making a cut,'' Garrison said. "But once I make that first cut it's like, 'All right, I can do this.' I can't worry about it."It's still in the back of my mind, but I just have to work through it. I've been fighting through it for the last six or seven months.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.