For Dustin Garrison, the most difficult part so far of his transition in transferring from West Virginia to Fresno State has been the drive – 20 hours from Morgantown, W.Va., to his home in Pearland, Texas, then 25 more to the Valley, some 3,130.2 miles in all.
And with fall camp over and the Bulldogs focusing on their season opener Thursday against Abilene Christian, that is a good thing, with the running back well past all of the heavy lifting in getting to know new teammates and a new offense.
“I love it,” Garrison said. “It feels good to be back in pads, feels good to have the football back in my hands and making plays.”
Garrison, eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, could be in position to make a lot of plays in the supporting cast behind starter Marteze Waller. Coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm prefer to use two backs to cut down on wear and tear on a player who will absorb contact on almost every play.
Last season, Waller led the team with 225 carries and Josh Quezada had 134; the previous year, Quezada led with 155 carries and Waller had 124.
Garrison carried only 20 times for 92 yards last season for the Mountaineers. But he led West Virginia in rushing as a freshman in 2011, gaining 742 yards at 5.5 yards per play with six touchdowns, and led the team’s running backs in receptions with 24. He can take on a similar role with the Bulldogs, along with senior Malique Micenheimer.
In fall camp, Garrison has flashed, not only running but receiving out of the backfield and performing on special teams. He is listed as No. 2 on kickoff returns, behind redshirt freshman Jamire Jordan.
“He has picked up the offense very well,” running backs coach Ron Antoine said. “There are a few wrinkles that we may not use in one game that he hasn’t been exposed to yet, that he doesn’t know yet. But he has picked up every aspect of the offense that we have in so far just like he has been here for years, and he has only been here for a few months.
“I think he’s ready to go. The one thing about getting back to playing football at that position, it’s getting out there and striking and not hesitating. I don’t think he has had a problem with that at all, and a lot of that is attributed to being able to understand what we’re doing and being able to go out there and execute at full speed. He has been able to do that.”
Adding a graduate transfer can be tricky, and the strike rate is not particularly high. While there have been some productive players to change schools, in the 10 years since the NCAA rule change that allowed players immediate eligibility if they have earned a degree and seek a graduate degree in a major not offered by the current school, quarterback Russell Wilson is, really, the only home run. Wilson transferred to Wisconsin from North Carolina State and led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.
But the Bulldogs, who last season had graduate transfers in quarterback Brandon Connette from Duke and inside receiver LeKendrick Williams from Texas A&M, like their chances with Garrison.
“Clearly, we needed Brandon last year to help us as far as competition at quarterback,” DeRuyter said. “With his (hand) injury, it didn’t quite work out the way he wanted it to, but he was a great guy to have on the team. LeKendrick, he had his opportunity and didn’t quite take advantage of it.
“But I think Dustin has done a great job taking advantage of his opportunity. His advantage is he got here in the summer, and even though it was later in the summer, it was before camp, so he got the chance to start forging some relationships and kind of prove himself to the team by going through the hardest part of summer conditioning.”
That, to Garrison, was part of the fun, and in transferring to Fresno State, that is what he sought.
“It was all about loving the game again,” he said. “My last couple of years playing, it was kind of hard to sit on the sideline. My last go-round, I wanted to go somewhere where I could be a factor and just enjoy the game of football one more time.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State vs. Abilene Christian
- Thursday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)