Health will play key role for WVU's Buie
MORGANTOWN - Andrew Buie sits down without sighing and later gets up from his seat without a groan. He walks without limps, shakes hands and offers embraces without wincing.
Those are the signs of a healthy player and the West Virginia sophomore running back is indeed healthy.
"I feel real good, to be honest," the Jacksonville, Fla., native said. "I probably haven't felt this good physically since last camp -since I first got here. My body just feels so fresh."
There's a good explanation. The Mountaineers are in the final third of spring practice and the Mountaineers really don't tackle a lot in spring practice. Buie's biggest bugaboo as a freshman was getting tackled.
Actually, getting whacked. Tackling Buie was oftentimes more of an event than a statistic for a defender.
"I've been in some wars, I took some big shots, I got some bruises," the 5 foot, 9 inch, 185-pound Buie said.
He was introduced to college football in the most cruel and unusual way against Marshall last season. Buie slipped into the flat to catch a pass, but also caught a full-speed strike from Thundering Herd cornerback Rashad Jackson.
That knocked him out of the game and the collarbone injury kept him from starting the second game.
"That probably set me back the rest of the year," he said. "I got hit from the blind side. It surprised me more than anything else because I didn't see it coming. I wasn't ready for it."
He was back in the starting lineup for the second time in the third game, but Buie ended up tweaking a hamstring against Maryland. That kept him out of the next two games and gave fellow freshman Dustin Garrison the opening he needed to take control as the featured back.
"I had never had to sit out because of injury, so that whole aspect was new for me," he said.
It wasn't easy watching and it was harder witnessing what happened while he was away. Garrison was a standout off the bench in the loss to LSU and then a star with 291 yards rushing against Bowling Green. Buie was recovered in time for the next game against Connecticut.
"The competitor side of me wants to be out there as much as possible, but me being so much of a team player, and the fact we were winning, it actually didn't bother me as much," he said. "But I definitely wanted to get back out there."
A few games later, Buie was running another route against Cincinnati and got smacked again and sidelined again by another hit he never saw coming.
"Sometimes defenders make great plays," he said. "I don't want to call it luck. I don't think luck exists. Defenders make plays sometimes."
It just seemed to happen to Buie with alarming frequency last season.
"He's a tough kid," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He runs hard, he plays hard, he blocks hard and he gets hit hard. He takes hits because he plays so hard."
Buie's upper body is better now. The bothersome bruises and aggravating aches are gone for now. The goal is to keep it that way, and if nothing else, last season's sore body of work is a lesson from which he can learn.
Believe Buie and running backs coach Robert Gillespie have watched the 2011 season on film and tried to find ways to make 2010 look and feel better.
"We evaluate how we can make better second-level moves and make a guy miss the next time," Buie said. "I need to be able to switch up my repertoire a little bit so I'm not so predictable. I can't just jump up in there and have them be in the same spot I'm going to."
It's a common adjustment for freshmen running backs and Buie was no different. He rushed for 3,683 yards and 48 touchdowns in his last two years of high school football, and while he was sometimes fortunate to get good blocking up front to create an opening, he was also blessed with gifts.
He was sometimes so much better than opponents that he could use his wiggle and his speed to do more than what the play designed.
It's different in college, where the opponents are just as fast and frequently bigger. The body needs time to mature and sometimes the same can be said of the skills. WVU's offense asks the line to spring the running back and then it's up to the running back to take over from there.
"Coach Gillespie always stresses making second-level defenders miss," Buie said. "He says if the line does its job, then it's your job when that one man shows up to make him miss. That's the difference between a good run and having a highlight type of run. The great ones make that man miss. The average guys continue to get tackled."
Buie, who wowed his coaches and teammates with his moves last summer and who rose to the top of the depth chart in preseason camp, is further ahead than people think. He played well in fewer opportunities late last season and didn't take as many big hits. When Garrison had to miss the Orange Bowl with his ACL injury, Buie helped the Mountaineers considerably in the 70-33 win with one of the best second-level, second-nature moves in recent WVU history.
It was Buie who everyone thought was tackled for no gain on a second-and-7 play in the first quarter. It was Buie who spun out of safety Rashard Hall's attempted tackle and ended up with a 16-yard reception to set up the first of his team's 10 touchdowns.
He's been similarly durable in spring practice, where he hasn't missed any time trying to earn a spot with Garrison now watching form the side.
"I try to do what's necessary in all instances," Buie said. "You can't always juke or try to elude a defender. Sometimes you have to get behind your shoulder pads and fight for that one, tough yard. I like to see myself as a guy who can do it all and I want to carry myself that way because I don't want to be taken out of a game in certain situations."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.