Alston emerging as starter at end of camp
Published: Monday, August 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 20, 2012 01:08
As the West Virginia football team prepares to begin its highly anticipated first season in the Big 12 Conference, it appears senior running back Shawne Alston is doing everything he can to make sure he’s a big part of it.
Through his performances in spring practice and fall camp, Alston has jumped up the depth chart and is currently listed as the No. 1 running back on the depth chart.
"Leadership," said West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen on what he’s see out of Alston so far. "(He’s) very physical and tough. He’s in shape, and he’s healthy. He’s really playing well."
The 5-foot-11, 236-pound tailback says the leadership role is indeed a vital facet to any team’s success, and it’s one he’s embraced heading into his final season as a Mountaineer.
"Every team you can think of that’s been great has always had great leaders," Alston said. "Someone who can just reiterate what the coaches say."
Alston has rushed for 682 yards in 29 games over three seasons during his career at West Virginia, and has seen a phenomenal increase in productivity in each successive season.
After picking up just 18 yards as a freshman in 2009, Alston powered his way to 248 yards on 56 carries in 2010 as a sophomore, getting his first taste of extended action in collegiate action and establishing himself as somewhat of a power running back under the late Bill Stewart.
In 2012, Alston nearly doubled his yardage production while still averaging over four yards per carry in the notoriously pass-heavy offense installed under Holgorsen. The Hampton, Va., native also tallied all 12 of his career rushing touchdowns last season during his junior year, providing a vital goal-line presence to the Mountaineers’ "Air Raid" offense.
Alston was a contributing factor to the record-setting onslaught of last year’s Orange Bowl too, leading the team with 77 rushing yards and two rushing scores of his own.
"Right now Shawne Alston has carried the momentum that he had from the Orange Bowl and the momentum he had during the spring over to fall camp," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie. "So right now he’s the lead dog – right now it will probably be Shawne Alston, number one."
There was nothing easy about Alston’s road to the top though. His reward truly is the culmination of an entire career of fervent dedication, hard work, long hours and an uncanny ability to overcome adversity.
Alston admitted recently that only a year ago, in the midst of last season’s fall camp, he actually thought his career in football might be over, after being held out of the entirety of preseason camp with a persisting neck injury suffered in a car accident.
But Alston’s determination ultimately couldn’t be overcome by the injury; the resilient senior worked tirelessly throughout the beginning of the 2011 season in order to be ready when his number was inevitably called. He did miss the first two games of the season, and saw somewhat limited action as the Mountaineers continued to establish their offensive philosophies and identity under first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen – but then, in Week 8, the Mountaineers went to Rutgers.
As a heavy, relentless snow blanketed the field in Piscataway, N.J., an equally relentless Alston exploded for a career-high 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns to lead his team to a critical second-half comeback victory.
Alston had proven he was indeed healthy enough to contribute, and the coaches immediately began to install Alston as a more prominent piece of the offensive attack, especially around the goal line.
But in 2012, Alston believes the fact he’s healthier than he has been in years will ultimately allow him to be an even more dynamic rushing threat, not just a power, goal-line running back.
"I think I’m at my best all-around," Alston said. "I need to do a little better job getting out of the backfield and catching balls, but I think I’ve really grown in other aspects of the game to help my cause to be the starter this year."
West Virginia University will be, without a doubt, one of the most explosive and highest-scoring teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision heading into 2012, and Alston admits that sometimes, if your name isn’t Geno, Stedman or Tavon, you can get overlooked – kind of fly under the radar. But that doesn’t bother Alston because flying under the radar is exactly where he likes to be.
"Those are electrifying guys," Alston said of his three teammates, which include two preseason Biletnikoff Award candidates and the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year. "I’m just more of a grind-it-out type of guy. The number of chances you get isn’t always too important, it’s just capitalizing when your number is called.
"Me, I don’t mind just being low-key and working hard."