Garrison emerging for West Virginia

Even with All-Big 12 performer Charles Sims moving on to the NFL, West Virginia still has an abundance of riches at running back.

Dreamius Smith was the No. 1 juco back in the country last year, and finished second on the team in rushing.

And despite Sims and Smith manning the backfield, Wendell Smallwood still carved out time as a true freshman due to his versatile playmaking.

The Mountaineers have also added high-profile transfer Rushel Shell, who was once the No. 3 running back recruit in the country.

On top of all that, West Virginia also welcomed back the leading rusher from 2012 in Andrew Buie, who spent last fall away from the team.

But there’s another contender for carries in this logjam of a backfield that shouldn’t be discounted. And that’s Dustin Garrison, who stole the show Saturday during the Mountaineers’ open scrimmage in Charleston, W.Va.

Before an estimated crowd of 6,000, Garrison turned heads, scoring two of the offense’s four touchdowns. Garrison also rushed for 39 yards on nine carries and caught two passes for 16 yards.

It wasn’t the numbers, however, that impressed. It was the way Garrison ran.

“I thought Garrison had a really good scrimmage,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson told reporters afterward. “He definitely showed up. He was a guy that stood out. I thought he was extremely positive.”

Saturday wasn’t the first time Garrison has stood out.

As a freshman in 2011, he led the Mountaineers with 742 yards on the ground while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. That season against Bowling Green, Garrison went completely off, rushing for 291 yards, which is the third-highest total in school history.

But in a practice leading up to the Orange Bowl that year, Garrison tore his ACL. He struggled to regain his form the following season, and lost the job to Buie. Then last year, he pulled his hamstring early in the season and wound up redshirting.

This spring, however, there have been signs Garrison is finally returning to the player he was in his first year. Saturday was the biggest sign yet.

“I feel like I did my freshman year, with my knee and my hamstring. Those injuries nicked me up,” said Garrison, who at only 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, relies heavily on his quickness and speed. “Right now, I have no complaints. My body is feeling good, and I have a lot to play for.”

If he runs and catches and blocks like he did in the scrimmage, the Mountaineers might have to find a way to get Garrison the ball, which won’t be a cinch.

After dropping 15 pounds during the offseason to improve his breakaway speed, Smith too has enjoyed a solid spring.

Though he’s still learning coach Dana Holgorsen’s system and shaking off the rust from sitting out last season, Shell’s talent and power between the tackles is undeniable.

And Smallwood actually led all West Virginia runners in the scrimmage with 55 yards rushing on just six carries.

But Garrison is unexpectedly, but doggedly, showing he too could be a factor in the West Virginia attack once again.

"Dustin can play when he plays like that and people have seen,” Dawson said. “That was really good to see that kid come out and play the way he did. … I thought it was extremely positive.”