All Business

If you were Steve Slaton, it'd be pretty easy to rest on your laurels and be content as one of the nation's premier running backs. But, for Slaton to do that would be totally out of character.

Slaton was a consensus freshman all-American last season after rushing for 1,128 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those accomplishments speak for themselves, but instead of being satisfied with one good season, the sophomore running back is looking to improve all areas of his game this spring.

"I just want to establish myself, have a better year, and keep progressing as a player and as a team," said Slaton after a recent spring practice.

One area Slaton has already improved in is his strength. He's noticeably bigger than he was last season, and the added bulk will make him an even more effective ball carrier as he's able to punish would-be tacklers on his way to paydirt. Just as important is the fact that while adding more muscle, he doesn't look to have sacrificed any speed.

"The coaches told me that they feel like I have a lot of speed in the game, but I needed to work on my flexibility and other things like that," said the soft-spoken superstar. "I'm just working on everything from trying to gain a little bit more weight to picking up some more speed. There's always room to improve and get better."

Through the spring's first few practices, Slaton was basically a one-man show from the tailback spot. During some practices he was taking reps with both the first and second teams. That wasn't exactly by design, according to his head coach.

"The method (to the madness) is that we don't have that many tailbacks," said Rich Rodriguez.

With senior Jason Colson having been nicked up last week, that left only greyshirt Jetavious Best behind Slaton on the depth chart. While Best has some talent, he isn't nearly as familiar with the offense as Colson or Slaton. The backfield has gotten some added depth this week as Colson is back in a white jersey instead of the green (limited contact) shirt he was sporting for a coupld of days last week. Junior speedster Tyler Benoit has also been moved to the offensive side of the ball after getting reps in the defensive backfield last season.

Slaton's success in 2005 mirrored that of the Mountaineers. Just as the Mountaineers entered the season under the radar, Slaton was a virtual unknown hading into fall camp. But as the season progressed, both Slaton and the Mountaineers grabbed more headlines. It all culminated with a 38-35 win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, a game in which Slaton ran for a Sugar Bowl record 204 yards.

As they put that success behind them and focus on the upcoming season, Slaton and his teammates can sum up their goals in two words: be better.

"I think we're looking forward to see if we can do more, and do better," he says. "You never want to stay in the same spot as a team or a player. You always want to get better, and that's why we're all out here right now in the spring."

The thought of Slaton and the rest of the Mountaineers being any better than they were last year is a frightening thought for opposing clubs.


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