MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Andrew Buie realizes how unconventional it looked, stepping away from football last August only days before the season opener.
Maybe the depth chart wasn’t to his liking after Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith arrived. Maybe football became a point of frustration rather than fulfillment.
Whatever the case, West Virginia’s leading rusher in 2012 pulled a vanishing act in 2013, heading back home to Jacksonville, Fla. And despite assurances from coach Dana Holgorsen that Buie planned to return, some weren’t convinced until they saw Buie back on campus in January, back from what the team called a “redshirt leave of absence,” back from he described as a head-clearing sabbatical.
“I kind of always knew in the back of my mind that I’d be back here,” Buie said Thursday night after the team’s third spring practice. “The break was really good for me. I was getting myself to where I need to be … more mentally focused, just maturing all around.
“When I say I was really just home spending time with my family and becoming a man, that’s all I did. Football was one of those things I had to remove from my life for a little while.”
The precise details surrounding Buie’s exit remain between him and his coaches, and amid repeated questions about how the situation unfolded, Buie asserted: “You don’t have to explain to the whole world what’s best for you. I felt like going home last semester, spending time with my family and getting myself together was best for me.”
The player who carved up Texas for 207 yards on an indelible night in Austin spoke fondly of the time away, especially for another chance to observe his father.
“He’s a barber, and just watching how hard he works everyday to provide for my brothers—he works crazy, crazy hours,” Buie said. “I’ve never seen a human being work like that. If I could have just half that work ethic, I should be all right in life.”
Even before Buie decided on returning to WVU, he took classes in Jacksonville and maintained conditioning with daily workouts. “I didn’t just go home, kick up my feet on the beach, relax in the La-Z-Boy every day,” he said.
Asked if home-state programs sought to convince him to transfer, Buie said “I stayed away from all that.” For the first time since he was 6, he was shutting himself off from football, which also meant limiting contact with West Virginia coaches throughout the season.
“I called every now and then, but it wasn’t like we tried to overcrowd each other,” he said. “Obviously I was home for a reason.”
And now he’s back for a reason, better equipped to compete for playing time in a still-crowded backfield that includes Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Dustin Garrison and vaunted Pitt transfer Rushel Shell.
“I’ve just got to go out there and be the best Buie I can be everyday, not worry about nobody else,” he said. “As long as I put myself in the best position to help the team, that’s all I can control.”