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College

WVU running back impresses

| Saturday, April 14, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
West Virginia  running back Shawne Alston (20) scores a touchdown during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Clemson, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
West Virginia running back Shawne Alston (20) scores a touchdown during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Clemson, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Shawne Alston is making believers out of everyone these days.

Working through doubts of being productive in West Virginia's offense, Alston continues to change the perception people have of him.

“Every day is an audition when you're going out to practice,” Alston said. “You just have to go out and compete with the people in the backfield but also make them better as you're making yourself better, too.”

Count coach Dana Holgorsen's perception as changed.

Alston, a senior-to-be running back, has impressed this spring and is showing he can be an every-down back.

“Shawne Alston looked as good as I (have) ever seen him,” Holgorsen said after Sunday's scrimmage. “He is hard to tackle.

“Last spring, we didn't get anything out of him. (During) camp, we didn't get anything out of him. And the first five games of the year, we didn't get anything out of him. As the season went on, he became more healthy.”

The doubts about Alston stretch back to December 2010, when he was rear-ended by a drunk driver over Christmas break. Alston suffered whiplash, and it left his football career in limbo.

Alston tried to return in spring 2011, but neck pain returned after a few days of contact. He tried again in fall camp, but after four days, he again was relegated to the sidelines.

He continued to stay involved in meetings and taking mental reps during practice, but he still wasn't healthy enough to get on the field.

He tried to remain positive and was able to return during the season.

“I was ... doing everything I was supposed to do,” Alston said, “and it just didn't work the way it was supposed to so I lost a little bit of faith. The training staff, coaches and players did a good job of keeping my spirits up, and I just kept working hard.”

Holgorsen's offense traditionally relies on “quick-twitch” runners — small backs with quickness. But Alston stands 5-foot-11, weighs 235 pounds and is easily the slowest of the team's running backs.

West Virginia found a place for him as a change-of-pace back, providing power to a work-in-progress running game.

He made his mark against Rutgers when heavy snowfall and a slick field made a runner's quickness irrelevant. Alston rumbled for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Alston capped his season with 77 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in the Orange Bowl.

Now, with last season's top rusher Dustin Garrison out this spring, Alston sits atop the depth chart and has shown Holgorsen that he can carry the load. Despite not fitting the traditional mold, Alston's able to produce and provide a power option in the Mountaineers' air-oriented offense.

In reality, he's just grateful to be on the field. Alston, who will be starting graduate studies next school year, realizes how much football means to him.

“I think the biggest thing is just don't take things for granted,” Alston said. “There was a point last year where I thought I would never be able to play again. So when you get out there and play, play like every down is your last and don't leave anything on the field because everybody doesn't have the opportunity to play.”

Josh Sickles is a freelance writer.

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