By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
August 24, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There may be a new player in West Virginia’s bid to improve on third and short yardage this fall: freshman running back Shawne Alston.
Alston made a bid for a spot on the depth chart last week when Ryan Clarke was sidelined with a mildly sprained ankle. Alston performed well in Clarke’s absence, and actually took reps with the ones during last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“That was big because it gave me a chance to show the coaches what I can do,” Alston said.
Alston is much bigger than West Virginia’s other tailbacks in the 175-180-pound range – Alston is a legit 220 - and he probably has more of a feel as a ball carrier than Clarke does as a fullback.
Alston admitted that the size of the other running backs in the program weighed heavily on his decision to come to West Virginia.
“When I looked at the program that they sent me and I looked at the weights of the backs, I thought it was an advantage for me because if I could come in and work on my speed – I probably won’t be as fast as them – but I could work on it, then my weight is a plus to me,” Alston said.
What West Virginia landed last February was one of Virginia’s most productive runners in 2008. Alston ran for 2,278 yards, including 971 yards and 10 touchdowns during the state playoffs to lead Phoebus High School to a 14-0 record and the state championship.
Alston became one of only two players in the Peninsula District to ever run for more than 2,200 yards in a single season. He earned first team Class 3A all-state honors, and was named the Daily Progress player of the year.
Alston admitted that he first became interested in West Virginia when quarterback Taj Boyd committed to the Mountaineers. But when Boyd changed his mind and eventually picked Clemson, Alston stuck with West Virginia.
“Taj committed and that made a lot of us start looking toward West Virginia as an option,” Alston said. “A lot of people from that area go to Virginia Tech and Virginia. When (assistant coach Chris Beatty) came down he started telling us about West Virginia.
“I was content with what I wanted to do,” added Alston of Boyd’s switch. “He’s his own man. That’s what he had to do. I still wanted to come.”
Now, Alston is spreading the word back home.
“It’s like a new pipeline,” he said. “They are recruiting some of the kids from back home so I will talk to them and tell them how it is. I can tell them how it really is because they have known me for a couple of years.”
Alston was impressed with the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium when he came up for the 2008 spring game, and it was then that he decided WVU was the place for him.
“Coach Beatty told me a lot about it and when I came up here for the spring game my junior year, just the whole atmosphere took me,” Alston said. “It was a new atmosphere that I had never experienced, and I thought I would like to play in something like that.”
Actually, he may be playing a lot sooner than he initially thought. West Virginia’s third down woes were well documented last year and Alston could be an option.
Some of those third down problems were on the offensive line for not getting enough push. But some of that also has to fall on the running back for not getting the tough yards between the tackles when nine guys are in the box and all of the running lanes are clogged.
“I think I can make a difference,” he said.
Alston says size is only one component of being a good short-yardage runner. Leverage is also very important.
“In high school I was bigger than some of the defensive linemen so I didn’t really have to get low,” he admitted. “Now the linebackers are bigger than me so I’ve got to get my pad level down so I can get better power to go through them.”
However, Alston wants to be thought of as more than just a short-yardage back.
“Once I get up here in the off-season and I can get to work with Mike Joseph and improve my speed to be able to compete to become an every-down back,” he said.
Alston believes he is improving in all areas. He is also listening to what Beatty is telling him in the meeting room.
“Coach Beatty watched the film with me and he told me what I can do better,” Alston said. “I tried to take that and think about it before the snap. Also, take mental reps from the sideline and just think about what I can do better and try and put it into my game.
“Coach Beatty does a good job when we are in the class room and we have meetings he goes over stuff and we write a lot of stuff down. When you get on the field you’re like, ‘OK, this is what he was talking about.’ It relates.”
Judging from his performance so far this fall, it looks like Alston is becoming a pretty fast learner.
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