WVU football: Garrison has big help in recovery
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Running back Dustin Garrison wasn't in uniform Saturday when No. 9 West Virginia defeated Marshall, but he remains in the plans for the offense. That means left guard Josh Jenkins remains a big part of Garrison's recovery.
The fifth-year senior from Parkersburg has been through three knee surgeries and three recoveries and has been one of Garrison's confidants as Garrison comes back from December's left ACL tear.
"Coming back from a knee injury is the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Jenkins said. "You go through a lot of adversity and there are times you don't believe it's going to happen. The best thing I try to tell him is to take your time. If it's hurting, don't be afraid to get treatment on it. Don't be afraid to take time on it.
"It's not going to be easy, but I try to be positive with him and let him know what I had to go through and the pains I had when I came back, so if he experiences the same stuff, he knows what to expect."
Jenkins played as a true freshman in 2008, but in the fifth game dislocated his left knee and missed the rest of the season. He returned in 2009 and started all 13 games, but hurt his right knee early in the 2010 season and needed arthroscopic surgery to clear out some cartilage. That cost him two games.
He was back on the field in the 2011 spring, but had a player accidentally take out his legs in the spring game which "tore my MCL and everything that holds my kneecap in place" in his left knee.
He missed all of the 2011 season while Garrison took over as the starting running back as a true freshman and led the team with 742 yards rushing.
Jenkins, the state's first player to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in 2007 and a Parade Magazine and USA Today high school All-American at Parkersburg High, has started 25 games and missed 23 in his career.
He and Garrison have different positions and their injuries are not the same, but a knee is a knee and the issues are similar.
"The biggest thing about coming back from a knee injury is knowing that once you step on the field, you're going to have pains here and there," Jenkins said. "You try not to think about it and try not to worry about it and just go. If you think about it, it slows you down.
"The best thing I did when I came back this spring was I didn't let it affect me. I just went out and played and I knew by the third time if I thought about it, I'd play slower and there'd be a chance it could happen again."
The 6-foot, 4-inch, 305-pound Jenkins needed to trust the knee so he could establish leverage on the line while blocking for running plays and protecting Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Geno Smith. Garrison needs to trust his knee when he makes cuts, runs routes and pass blocks. He has to know a certain move won't trigger a shooting pain that could cause him to drop the ball or open himself up to a dangerous hit.
The game is too fast and player safety is too important to let Garrison go back out there worried about actions and reactions.
"You won't believe in it sometimes because you just don't believe your knee will be able to do what you used to do," Jenkins said. "Eventually, you learn that you can make certain cuts and you can push off of it like you used to be able to do. In reality, it's always in the back of your head and it's up to you to get over it."
Jenkins has come back from all three injuries, surgeries and rehabilitations to earn a starting spot and he worked from the start of this year's spring practice until WVU's most recent practice as the first-team left guard. WVU will rotate in practice every now and then to develop depth and try out new combinations. But Jenkins hasn't been demoted to the second string at all since he started his latest comeback.
He thought about giving up football during the last recovery, but realized he had an opportunity to get stronger and learn about the offense as he sat out and watched Dana Holgorsen's first season in charge. It would have been a challenge to play his final season in 2011 without a firm grasp of the offense and Jenkins felt he owed himself that fifth season. Each time he's returned from injury, he said he's found he's a little smarter, a little more mature and a little tougher than he was before.
"I got to know the game of football a lot better than I did before," he said. "It gave me time to not only understand the offense, but to find out who I really am and it made more physical player and made me a meaner offensive lineman."
Jenkins found a way to use the anger over his injuries and the frustration that comes with constant comebacks. He was tired of proving himself, but understood the Mountaineers would not simply give him a starting spot. This last time around, he didn't want to come back and lose his spot to a younger player.
Garrison is going to have a similar battle whether he comes back this year or if he redshirts and returns in 2013. Senior Shawne Alston is WVU's starter and sophomore Andrew Buie is the trusted backup. Buie could take a hold of the position this season for next season and take over Alston's lead role. Garrison would have to compete for snaps against Buie, two true freshmen on the roster now and others the Mountaineers may recruit as part of the 2013 class.
"I never wanted to be a backup. I never wanted to be the guy you saw at the end of the bench," Jenkins said. "I'm not saying they don't contribute because everyone contributes in their own way, but to me, if I was going to come back, I wanted to get my position back. That mentality made a big difference for me, even during the rehab.
"Eventually there was no one thing in my mind that said, 'Your time is up. Someone is going to take your position from you.' I believed it was my time to come back, work hard, battle guys and come out and physically dominate."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com.wvu.