Speed is not Alston's forte
MORGANTOWN - Not a day goes by when Bruce Irvin doesn't needle Shawne Alston about his speed, or, more precisely, his lack of it.
Alston really can't do much about it. He's a realist, and realists understand their limitations.
"I am who I am,'' West Virginia's junior running back said this week. "I don't have too much speed so I can't really get around the corner. So I just use what I have.''
Imagine the surprise then - the total shock, really - when in a game in the snow at Rutgers last weekend Alston turned the corner and left everyone in his wake. Fifty-two yards and a trail of slush that looked like it came from a truck without mud flaps later, the 5-foot-11, 220-pounder was in the end zone at the end of his longest run ever as a Mountaineer.
A chance at a little payback, right? An opportunity to gloat to Irvin and anyone else who had ever doubted Alston's ability to motor?
Not a chance.
"They just said it was the longest 50-yard run they'd ever seen,'' Alston said. "Tavon [Austin], Coach [Robert] Gillespie, Ryan Clarke, Bruce, everybody.''
Ryan Clarke? Even Ryan Clarke was still joking about Alston's lack of speed?
"I thought I was moving, personally,'' Alston said. "I was moving.''
So what if Austin probably completed his own 80-yard touchdown run at Rutgers a few series later in less time than Alston jaunted 52 yards.
"Yeah, he probably did,'' Alston said. "But I was in the snow. He was in that nice green part [of the field that had been plowed].''
Speed or no speed, though, Alston's performance in Saturday's 41-31 win at Rutgers might have been the next step in his continuing integration into West Virginia's offense. After missing the first two games of the season while still recovering from a neck injury suffered in a winter car accident, Alston has become the go-to big back as the Mountaineers continue to work more running into their offense.
He would finish the Rutgers game with a career-high 110 yards on just 14 carries.
"Shawne is getting there. We've been getting him touches,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He's been getting healthier to where it makes it easier to have another guy who can play a lot of different positions. He can be the main back or the fullback/lead back guy because he's a physical guy. Having guys like him who can play more than one position is definitely a good thing. We'll keep getting him the ball as long as when he runs it and he keeps going forward.''
His next opportunity comes Saturday when No. 24 West Virginia (6-2, 2-1 Big East) plays Louisville (4-4, 2-1) at Mountaineer Field. Barring a freak of nature, though, this one won't be in a snowstorm. Saturday's forecast calls for sunshine and temperatures in the 50s.
That doesn't mean Alston won't be a factor, though. Not only is he the only big back the Mountaineers really have in comparison to Dustin Garrison, Andrew Buie and Vernard Roberts, he's more than just a change of pace. He's another healthy body at a position that requires a lot of them.
"It's a long season, especially at running back. You need more than one guy,'' Holgorsen said. "Running back's probably the hardest position to play in the game because you have so much for them to do, and they take such a beating with pass protection and running the ball and being involved in the pass game.
"Throughout the course of the year you're going to need four or five guys to step up. We're a running-back-oriented team anyway with the amount of backs that we play in two-back and three-back [formations].''
Holgorsen also likes the fact that Alston provides a bit of maturity in an otherwise wet-behind-the-ears collection of runners. The other three tailbacks getting carries are all true freshmen.
Of course, that Alston's name is brought up in the same sentence with maturity is also new this season. Remember, it was Alston who was discovered to have been posting messages on his Facebook page at halftime of WVU's bowl game last December.
Chalk that up as a lesson learned.
"I regret it. I think to a lot of people it gave off a sense of not being focused or whatever, that I wasn't into the game,'' Alston said. "But it is what it is. I won't do it again, I know that much.''
While Alston is no longer chided by teammates for his halftime misstep at the bowl game, he will likely never shake the kidding about his speed. Even if most everyone was willing to let it go, Irvin never will.
"Ah, man, he's the worst,'' Alston said of the boisterous defensive end. "It's between him and Tavon.''
Truth be told, if Alston was confident enough in his speed he could settle the matter rather easily. He could have someone in WVU's video room time his 50-yard dash in the snow. He could put Austin's 80-yard run and his 52-yarder side-by-side and see if Austin really was faster.
Again, though, remember that Alston is a realist above all else.
"No, I don't want to do that,'' Alston said of timing the video tapes. "I don't want to face reality.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.