When WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen walked onto campus, he brought an explosive offense to town. But, it was an offense that didn't ever feature a running back like Alston. There wasn't a 240-pound running back that made a mark for Texas Tech, Houston or Oklahoma State under Holgorsen.
That's what Alston had to work against.
"When the old coaching staff left, I had talked with my old position coach [Chris Beatty]. I asked him if [Holgorsen's] offense ran the ball. [Beatty] said that [Holgorsen's] old running back ran for a lot of yards, so when the new coaching staff got here, I went to the film room myself, and it was just a basic zone offense," he said. "It didn't scare me away."
What many thought would happen was that the Mountaineers' talented running back recruiting class featuring then-freshmen Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison would quickly pass up Alston on the depth chart. Both were more prototypical Holgorsen backs.
That didn't make Alston nervous either.
"That sort of thing didn't bother me. I knew that I just had to come in and do what I have to do," he said. "When I got here, [Noel Devine] was here, and they recruited [Tavon Austin]. They were both smaller. I think I can come into any system and be able to produce."
The only thing that limited what Alston was able to do in the first spring under Holgorsen was the running back's health. He had a nagging neck injury that caused him to cautiously approach what is normally a vicious game.
He wasn't even healthy at the time of the start of the 2011 season, and that allowed fellow returning back Vernard Roberts to earn the start. Roberts quickly left the team after he lost his job to the freshmen – the problem everyone thought Alston would have.
Meanwhile, Alston was working hard to get healthy as the smaller backs were struggling to get anything going in the running game.
"[The coaching staff] really didn't get a chance to see what I could do, because I wasn't healthy. I knew if I took care of my part, and I went out there and showed what I could do, then things would come around," he said.
He saw his first action of 2011 vs. Maryland and rushed six times for 20 yards. He opened some people's eyes – maybe even the coaches' – with his ability to convert two third-down situations. Then, he busted onto the scene with 110 yards in a snowy Rutgers came a month or so later.
Alston finished with 416 rushing yard and a team-high 12 touchdowns in 2011.
"There's a pep in his step. The offensive line can definitely tell the difference when he's healthy, too," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie. "His attitude has always been good, but it's a lot livelier. I'm excited for him, because he's worked so hard in the offseason."
When Gillespie first came to WVU from Oklahoma State last year, he knew the knock against Alston – he couldn't stay healthy, couldn't finish spring and wasn't in shape.
"I let him know those were things he had to work on, and he took it to heart," Gillespie said. "In 2011, he was hurt and played through the pain. He was out there limping around, but you know what, he showed his teammates that this really matters to him."
Now, as a senior and a second-year player in this offense, Alston feels even more confident – though he has never really lacked that in his time at WVU.
"I'm healthy, so I think I'm expected to come in and compete for a starting position. Whereas, last year, I was expected to do the same thing, but I wasn't healthy," Alston said. "I had a real good offseason … so I'm just ready to come in and show the world what I can do.
"It just makes me more confident to know that I can go out there and not wonder what would happen if I get hit a certain way. I can just play my game to the fullest extent that I can."
Alston admits that with such a powerful passing attack led by quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, the Mountaineers won't be a run-heavy offense. But, there will be an opportunity for the running game. He knows that.
"We can definitely run the ball, but we have so many playmakers out there at receiver, so if you didn't give them an opportunity to make plays, that just wouldn't be good for the team," Alston said. "We'll get the opportunity to carry the ball a good bit this season and show that we can excel. I'm not worried about that."