MORGANTOWN - Whether she was by his side in the days following the surgery or on the other end of the phone in the lowest moments of the lengthy rehabilitation, Dustin Garrison's mother repeated the rationale, hoping the iterations would have an impact.
"No matter what happens, keep your head up," Shondalon Guillot would say. "Everything happens for a reason."
The reality of a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury, the pangs of popping scar tissue after the operation in January 2012, the agony of watching from the sideline as West Virginia's games and losses happened without him made it hard for Garrison to comprehend, never mind accept, his mother's words.
Gradually, like rebuilding strength, stamina and ultimately confidence in a restructured knee, Garrison has made meaning of the message. Free of restrictions during spring practice a year after he was simply jogging on the side as the Mountaineers went on without him, the junior running back is now right in the middle of the position with the greatest depth of talent on offense.
WVU will likely rely on running backs in Dana Holgorsen's passing offense as a new quarterback emerges and unproven receivers find their form around him.
"I feel like if we do a great job running the ball, that's just going to help the quarterback," said Garrison, who missed the first two games last season.
He didn't get a touch against Iowa State and never played in the bowl loss. "He'll be able to read the defense and the more the linebackers have to play the run, the more that opens up the passing lanes.
"I feel like offensively, if the running backs do a good job, like we have to do, we'll be successful as an offense."
Garrison and Andrew Buie will be in their third year with the Mountaineers. Buie has 230 carries, 1,023 yards and eight touchdowns in his career. Garrison has 180 carries for 949 yards and eight touchdowns. They have similar size and skills. Buie stands about an inch taller and weighs a few more pounds than the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Garrison. Garrison has eight fewer receptions than Buie's 41.
They're also making room for junior college transfer Dreamius Smith, a 5-11, 215-pounder from Butler (Kan.) Community College who had 220 carries for 1,674 yards and 26 touchdowns in two seasons as the Grizzlies won a national title in 2011 and lost in the title game in 2012.
"Dreamius is good," Garrison said. "He's a bigger back than all of us, but he also has the moves. He's pretty quick for his size, but he knows how to use his body. He moves the pile, but he's not just a big guy."
The Mountaineers were limited without Garrison last season. Buie carried 179 yards, but had 25, 31 and 21 in consecutive games against Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech. He had just one more combined carry in the final seven games of the season and averaged just 52 yards per game.