MORGANTOWN - Shawne Alston doesn't quite know what it was, but he's apparently paying for something that he's done somewhere along the line."I just keep think it was karma,'' Alston said. "I probably did something bad one day in my life or something like that. I don't know.''The thought of bad karma of whatever it might be has occasionally crept into the West Virginia running back's mind over the course of the last 71/2 weeks. That's how long it's been since he suffered an injury to his right thigh in the Mountaineers' second game of the season.That injury by itself wouldn't be all that unusual, even if the injury itself seems to be. After all, college football players get hurt. A lot.But Alston seems to have shouldered more than his share. He had knee and leg injuries as a freshman and sophomore. He injured his neck in a traffic accident that limited him greatly last season as a junior.Then, after overcoming all that, he finally began to show what a healthy Shawne Alston could do this year as a senior. In West Virginia's first game, against Marshall, he was a bulldozer, running 16 times for 123 yards and dragging would-be tacklers all over Mountaineer Field.But just as he began to finally feel good about what he was able to show people, it happened again. He took a shot that running backs take. At first he thought nothing of it, but it was different."I was able to play through it. It was the first quarter of the JMU game. The score was still 0-0 when it happened,'' Alston said. "I caught a shot there and it just got worse and worse as the game went on. I wasn't able to move my leg or have any knee drive or anything like that.''The diagnosis was a deep thigh bruise."I know what people think of a bruise. I've played with little contusions in my thigh. Running backs get those,'' Alston said. "It was just something way worse than what everybody thought it was.''It was bad enough that twice he saw specialists and was anesthetized while they drained blood from his leg.
"It was a deep tissue bruise that was down by the bone and my body couldn't absorb all the blood,'' Alston said. "So I had to get a couple of procedures done to help it out. Then some calcification started to form. It was just different obstacles that kept coming up."It was a hassle trying to get my motion back and get the strength back in my leg. I still don't have the strength I had.''All the while, the rumors swirled. Alston heard them. He was soft. He had off-the-field issues. He was a discipline problem.Shoot, he even heard some so funny that he put them out on his Twitter account.
"I have a sense of humor,'' he said. "It was funny.''
Alston essentially hadn't played since that JMU game. He dressed for the next week's game against Maryland and was in on a play or two, but didn't carry the ball. Finally, he got back on the field last Saturday when WVU played TCU. He carried seven times for 16 yards and scored a touchdown.But he's still not really back."Presence, good. Mentality, good. Health, not good,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said of Alston now. "He's a different guy now than he was the first couple of games. He was more healthy than he was the two weeks prior to that, which is why he suited up [against TCU]. He'll continue to rehab and continue to work through it and practice more, but he didn't look the same, and that's why we didn't play him much.''"I don't feel like I did going into the Marshall game,'' Alston said. "But every day is a work in progress to get it stronger and get it better. I'm still working.''West Virginia's offense is certainly better with a healthy Alston on the field. Andrew Buie has filled in capably and even had a monster of a game at Texas with 207 yards. Dustin Garrison is improving each week after offseason knee surgery.
But those two smaller backs need more help gaining yards than Alston. Against Marshall he was moving the ball at times without much blocking. Nothing against those other two, but there's a reason he was the clear-cut leader at tailback going into the season.Whether he ever regains that form, though, seems to be in doubt. It's not to Alston, because he has confidence. But he also knows how bad it was and what he's coming back from."It's like a buildup of pressure in your leg. I couldn't bend it back or kick it up at all,'' Alston said. "I had pain walking around. I couldn't really get up stairs. I had to turn sideways and use railings to help me up.''Along with all the rumors surrounding his status, there was also talk about Alston perhaps just cashing it in this season and taking the redshirt year he didn't take as a freshman. He was under the limit of games when he went out. But that's no longer an option after he played against TCU, and that's just fine with him."If they had come to me then maybe it would have been something we could have talked about,'' said Alston, who already has his degree. "But I think everybody just agreed that if I kept working hard I'd be able to come back.''And finally he is, although not at 100 percent. He estimates he's perhaps 70 percent of what he was at the start of the season. But he still thinks it's possible to get all the way back."My treatment regimen is crazy right now. I'm always in there,'' Alston said. "They put up a picture of me in there one day I was in there so much."I still have a little bit of lingering effects, but most of those are starting to go away. It's just the issue of getting the strength back and getting the mobility back.''And erasing whatever karma lingers.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.