It’s late in WVU’s victory against Bowling Green and freshman Dustin Garrison has just discovered he had 291 rushing yards. He doesn’t know the school record is 337 yards, that he’s tied for the second-best total in school history or that WVU’s freshman mark is already his. All he knows is a lot of players have 200 yards games. Few have 300 yards. He’s nine yards away from that.
And here comes Robert Gillespie, the team’s running backs coach. What does he want, Garrison wonders, though deep down already aware of what Gillespie will have to say. So he gets in the first word.
“You gonna let me get nine more yards?” Garrison asked with a smile behind his facemask.
“… get on the sideline,” came the reply.
And that right there is the nature of the nurturing relationship the two have built, the one that began when Gillespie rescued Garrison from the ranks of the unsought and offered him a chance and the Division I scholarship no one else had mentioned.
That came with a condition, though: Trust. Gillespie would only tell Garrison he was about to take a new job and that he wanted Garrison with him. He left it up to Garrison to connect the dots, which he did when he saw Oklahoma State win the Alamo Bowl and eventually figured out Gillespie would follow Dana Holgorsen to WVU. They wanted Garrison, a smallish player who no one else really wanted … until he committed to the Mountaineers. Only then did others take a closer look.
All Gillespie has asked of Garrison and the other running backs is that they trust him and his practices, that they stick with him when it might be easier to wane or wander, they they listen to him when he says everyone has the same opportunities and separation occurs when people make the most of those occasions.
It is Garrison who has thus far made the most of the association with Gillespie, and it is Gillespie who said he’s finally seeing Garrison play on the college field like he did in high school … which is what Gillespie wanted and asked for from the beginning. That they’re here at this point where Garrison seems like the best and most reliable player at the position is a credit to the player and the coach and their faith in one another.
Remember, Garrison didn’t have a carry or a catch against Maryland. He then made his opening statement a week later against LSU and followed that with the not-quite-300 yards against Bowling Green, a performance that contained another essence of their relationship.
“He’s a great coach,” Garrison said of Gillespie. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s real tough, real straight forward and he’s always making sure I’m the same Dustin I was in high school, that I’m just as hungry and ready to make plays. Meetings, practice, things like that, it doesn’t matter. He’s always on me and keeping me focused.”
The congratulations lined up for a long time after Garrison’s performance against Bowling Green until Gillespie finally got his chance.
“The first thing I said was, ‘You put the ball on the ground too many times,’ ” Gillespie said.
The praise followed.
“My job is to critique and correct,” Gillespie said. “Neither of those is fun, but my job isn’t to pat them on the butt. My job is to get them better and once we get that right, we find the next thing to get better.”