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Garrison not surprised by rehab progress

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Dustin Garrison's recovery from the torn ACL and sprained MCL suffered at West Virginia's first Orange Bowl practice in December continues. The sophomore running back just passed another progress test that evaluates leg strength and the result was favorable, as were all the other reports.

This doesn't really surprise or even please Garrison. Ask him and he has been good to go ever since he got over the initial shock and disappointment from the non-contact injury days before the Mountaineers scored the most points in the history of bowl games.

One of the most vivid images of Garrison after the injury - and, really, one of the few before he met with the media Tuesday for the first time since then - is of him simply walking off the bus as it arrived at a bowl function and then absorbing a lecture from team trainers who wanted him to use crutches.

Turns out that wasn't a freak occurrence. He put himself through his own rudimentary recovery tests.

"They really didn't want me doing it, but I'd walk around the house and make a couple moves here and there," he said. "It seemed stable enough."

With his confidence raised, he'd push a little harder, though only away from the overseers of his recovery, who would surely flip out if they saw what Garrison was doing.

"I'd do a little running up the stairs at my apartment, run down the street, anywhere I could," he said.

There were never any setbacks and Garrison otherwise stayed within the guidelines provided to him after his surgery in January. He began the long road back to where he was last season, when he emerged against LSU, gained 295 yards a week later against Bowling Green and was the unquestioned starter by the time the Mountaineers arrived in Miami for the Orange Bowl.

All along he was told he'd need six months to pull off this comeback. He's right on track and hopes to start doing football stuff next month. He has already been running with his teammates on the side. Now he has to build up strength in his quad muscle and start making cuts and taking hits.

"I feel like I'm going to be a lot better than I was last year," he said.

In truth, that's all Garrison needs to worry about at this stage. The hardest parts are over, and that has nothing to do with the post-surgery pangs, combating impossibly painful stiffness or popping scar tissue.

The moments that stung the most were emotional ones, beginning with the frightening time on the ground after he simply planted wrong and fell to the grass. Right away, he knew his season was over.

"I was asking myself, 'How can this be happening? Why did it happen?'" he said. "I was down there for a while wondering why, but I knew this happened for a reason and I couldn't beat myself up about it."

Then he had to watch the bowl game and enjoy everything that happened while knowing he could have been in on the fun Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie were having in his place.

"Bad deal," he said.

The win catapulted just about everyone into the offseason, but Garrison had a different sendoff into the lonely months away from football. At first, Garrison, who has broken his collarbone and an elbow before, didn't handle it well. His mom and his girlfriend visited him in Morgantown and helped him for a few days after the surgery, but Garrison was soon on his own.

Fortunately he had his roommates, receivers Dante Campbell and K.J. Myers.

"They helped me out a lot," Garrison said. "They were always there and always making sure I was OK. 'Hey, you're depressed. You've got to get out of the house. Let's go get something to eat.' I was lucky I had people there who were happy to help me."

It snapped Garrison out of his funk and sent him on his way to recovery. Garrison took the time he would have spent on the field in the spring and went to the weight room and the film room. He watched teammates work out and tried to find things that would work for him - and he said he's gained seven or eight pounds to reach 180 - and he studied the good and the bad from his freshman season.

"I'm pretty sure in the back of my mind I'll be a little worried, but I'm pretty sure everything else will be fine and I'll be focused on getting back to where I was and getting better," he said.

Garrison, who was only offered a scholarship by running backs coach Robert Gillespie in late December 2010, finished with 742 yards on 136 carries and six touchdowns last season and gave Coach Dana Holgorsen the running back the offense needs.

"Actually, I think I'll be a lot better," he said. "I'm still working on my strength, but mentally, I've been watching film and looking at different areas I needed to critique myself on."

The goal remains the same. Miss one game, no more. Miss spring football, but none of the fall. Where Garrison begins when camp opens in August doesn't matter, just as long as he is there when it starts.

"Honestly, I see myself in the back," he said. "I don't want Gillespie or Holgorsen to put me up top. I want to start in the back and earn my way back up to the top. I know Buie and Shawne and even the new guys have a lot to prove, but so do I. I see myself at the back of the depth chart and working my way to the top."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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