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WVU Football: Freshmen Ready To Make Mark

Mountaineers prepping for Friends of Coal Bowl

August 30, 2011
By JIM BUTTA , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - When Noel Devine stepped onto the artificial surface at Mountaineer Field, the Florida native made an immediate impact on the West Virginia running game.

But, the three-time Florida Class 5A all state performer also had the luxury of lining up in a backfield that had Steve Slaton at one running back position and Pat White under center.

The Mountaineers' newest crop of freshmen rushers won't have that advantage working for them when they take to the field at Milan Puskar Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Sunday to take on instate rival Marshall in the annual Friends of Coal Bowl.

''It's been a nice transition from high school to college,'' Jacksonville native Andrew Buie said. ''The older guys are doing a very good job of taking us under their wings and showing us how the ropes are around here.''

Buie, a three-year starter at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., is one of three incoming freshmen expected to see plenty of playing time in first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen's spread offensive attack. The other two are Texas native Dustin Garrison and Washington, D.C., native Vernard Roberts.

All three come to Morgantown with eye-catching numbers from their respective high schools.

Garrison, the 2010 Houston Chronicle All-Greater Houston Offensive Player of the Year, rushed for 4,261 yards and 62 touchdowns during his career at Pearland High School, while Roberts finished with 1,009 yards and nine touchdowns while earning Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year honors at Dunbar High School.

Buie's numbers were just as impressive as the Scout.com Top-50 running back rushed for 1,782 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior.

''We all have different things that we can bring to our running attack,'' Garrison said. ''For me, it's my patience. When I get the ball I'm waiting for a hole, but if I don't get one I will make one for myself.''

Buie is the biggest of the three at nearly 200 pounds, but that doesn't mean he possesses any less speed.

''I think that is one of the things (running backs) coach (Robert) Gillespie likes about all three of us,'' Buie said. ''But, we each have different ways we use our speed.''

The competition since Buie and Garrison arrived late in the summer has been fierce. Roberts came out of spring drills atop the depth chart at the ''A'' running back slot - slightly ahead of sophomore Trey Johnson.

Summer workouts witnessed the four taking turns showing what they could bring to the offense and that continued during the Mountaineers' first two weeks of camp.

''It really is a four-way competition,'' Garrison said. ''Vernard and Trey were the top two after spring, (and) me and Andrew have been playing catch-up since we got here.''

A task made easier by Roberts.

''With Vernard already here, he did a good job of letting us know how to do things,'' Buie said. ''Other guys did a good job too, but being a freshman, Vernard understood more about what we were going through.''

But, as competitive as the foursome has been on the field, it hasn't carried over to their personal lives.

''We're all freshmen (except Johnson),'' Buie said. ''We compete with each other, but at the same time we remain friends because there are going to be times when we are going to need somebody to lean on.''