MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Seven months after running back Andrew Buie left the West Virginia football team, withdrew from the university and returned home to Jacksonville for the fall semester, he's back, retooled and refocused, at the Mountaineers' spring camp.
Buie finally broke his silence about the ordeal, but his answers were more coy than clear.
"I went home for Andrew Buie," Buie said, "to make Andrew Buie a better person."
What Buie won't say, but what running backs coach JaJuan Seider said for him, is that Buie went packing late in camp in August because he lost out on the five-horse race at running back.
"He got beat out -- let's call it how we see it," Seider said last month.
Buie led West Virginia with 851 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2012, but the job reopened when graduate transfer Charles Sims, junior-college transfer Dreamius Smith and freshman Wendell Smallwood arrived before the 2013 season.
When West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen released his initial depth chart Aug. 26, Buie wasn't even listed among the running backs. Three days later, it was reported that Buie had withdrawn from the university.
"It wasn't no fluke that those guys were in front of him" on the depth chart, Seider said. "He was hurt early, then he got down on himself and was like, 'Man, I don't see no light at the end of the tunnel,' instead of fighting through it."
"I'm not going to lie to you," Buie added. "Yeah, [the competition] bothered me. But what can you do about it, realistically, except for accept it?"
Buie and the coaching staff agreed to part ways with the expectation that Buie would redshirt the 2013 season and rejoin the team in January. Buie wasn't always sure it would work out, but a return to West Virginia "was always in the back of [his] mind."
Back home in Jacksonville, Buie's aim was to spend time with his family and to mature. He gained a newfound appreciation for hard work, he said, from watching his father put in long hours at the corner barbershop.
"I've never seen anybody work like that," Buie said. "If I could have half his work ethic, I should be all right in life.
"As a kid, you'll find a million ways to take a shortcut versus just doing it the right way. Once you get to the reality that you're going to have to work for the rest of your life, as long as you live, and that there are no shortcuts to life, the better off you'll be. I finally came to that realization."
The homecoming wasn't a comfortable and cozy hiatus, either.
"I didn't just go home, kick back and put my feet up on the beach," Buie said. "I didn't relax and sit in the La-Z-Boy all day. I worked out every day. That's just the competitive nature of the beast."
Though early reports last fall speculated that Buie would elect to transfer from West Virginia to find more playing time, he says now he never gave transferring a thought.
Now, Buie is in another five-man race for starter, and the competition is just as heated as it was in the fall. Sims graduated, but former Pitt transfer Rushel Shell joined the corps this spring.
Buie maintains his departure and return were both the correct decisions for him. But, he was asked, would they still be the right decisions should he lose out again on the starting job?
Buie thought for a moment.
"I don't know," he said. "We haven't played yet. It's not my job to worry about X's and O's or who's going into the game. I just know when Buie's name is called, Buie's going to do what Buie's got to do -- period. That's all I'm worried about."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.