WVU running back Alston's contributions hold extra meaning
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Teammates always joke with West Virginia's Shawne Alston that he's slow. The junior running back hears it every day, especially from defensive end Bruce Irvin.
"He tells me I run a 4.9 (40-yard dash) every day," Alston said, laughing.
Even after he broke a 52-yard run against Rutgers on Saturday, a teammate told him on the sideline it was the longest 50-yard play he had seen. But regardless of what obstacles stand in his way, Alston has found a way to contribute on the football field.
Alston, a 5-foot-11, 221-pound running back from Hampton, Va., has overcome injury and his lack of speed to become a bigger contributor in West Virginia's offense.
Alston has rushed for 247 yards in six games this season in a reserve role. He's averaging 5.7 yards per carry and is tied for the team lead with five touchdowns.
He ran for a career-high 110 yards Saturday, but his playing career was jeopardized by a neck injury last winter.
Last January while home during Christmas break, Alston was sitting in his car at a red light when a drunk driver rear-ended him, injuring his neck.
Alston participated in only four workouts during the spring.
"When I came back for spring ball, I probably knew I wasn't ready," Alston said, "but with the new coaching staff on hand, I just wanted to go out and play."
He spent the rest of the offseason receiving daily treatment for his neck and looking for an opportunity to return. He still wasn't fully ready for fall camp and didn't play in West Virginia's first two games.
Even though he couldn't play, Alston stayed involved, getting mental repetitions and staying focused on learning the offense, which he's carried into games.
"The thing that sticks out the most is his preparation mentally," running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. "He's a student of the game, probably one of the smartest guys in the room. He makes up for his lack of athletic ability in some areas because he understands where he's limited."
Alston also has the ability to play tailback and fullback in Dana Holgorsen's offense. His versatility has allowed West Virginia to do more things offensively.
"We have to have guys that can do multiple things," Gillespie said. "Shawne is definitely that guy. As long as he's healthy, he can come in and do a lot of things for us other than just running the ball."
Freshman running back Dustin Garrison is the starter, but Alston will still play a vital role in the running game. He has the ability to provide a change of pace for the offense and gain tough yards when needed.
His journey back from injury has made everything much sweeter.
"The type of injury I had, I kept messing up," Alston said. "I was kind of discouraged by it. I didn't know if I was going to be able to play again. Every carry now is just a blessing. It makes me work that much harder, trying to grind it out."