Slaton, who didn't take hits during fall camp, certainly appeared fresh. West Virginia made that decision, as they did with quarterback Patrick White, partly because they didn't want to risk an injury to their star performers, but also to avoid adding hits to the season long wear and tear both will have to weather. While some might say a good bit of that safety margin has already been erased, Magee thinks it will help " a little bit" down the line.
More important, at least in Magee's view, was the way in which Slaton was running.
"I kept watching him closely, and he was finishing all of his runs and running hard. I felt like he was taking clean shots. Some of them may have looked pretty good, but I thought he was delivering the blow more than taking them a lot of the time."
Slaton's knack for twisting, spinning and avoiding the big hits can certainly lessen the cumulative effects of the pounding he takes every week. The shifty runner never avoids contact by running out of bounds, but he does always seem to slither past players that are lining him up for big hits. While some of those foes do end up making the tackle, they often don't get the kill shot they were aiming for.
Also of concern are late hits and "extra attention" that Slaton often receives. While there's not much that can be done to curtail that (other than a few well-timed penalty flags), Slaton has done as much as possible in the off-season to prepare for the 2006 grind.
"Steve has done a great job with Mike Barwis over the summer, and I do think he's a little stronger and faster than he was last year," Magee noted. "He's always been a strong kid. His vision was excellent, his feet were very quick, and he ran with power. He worked his butt off this summer."
Should Slaton tire, Magee has the awesome luxury of putting counterpart Owen Schmitt at superback for a few series. The WVU assistant has to sit back and times and cackle with glee as he contemplates exactly when he will unleash his rampaging bulldozer of a back, who breaks tackles a monster truck.
"I love watching him run," Magee said as he broke out into a grin, and, one imagines, suppresses the impulse to laugh. "He is a strong kid. I wish I had run him a little bit more, to be honest with you. He is such an unselfish guy. He's a good change of pace guy and it's a good 1-2 punch for us."
"A good 1-2 punch" might be the understatement of the year. The pair combined for 281 yards on 42 touches – an average of 6.7 yards every time the ball hit their hands. It has to be nice for Magee to know that if he gives his charges the ball twice, it usually results in a first down. That, of course, is the trap that he and head coach Rich Rodriguez have to avoid falling into. But if the choice comes down to using Slaton to win a game versus saving him in anticipation of a possible breakdown later in the season, it doesn't take much to figure that the former is going to be the one made. Rodriguez and Magee can talk all they want about watching and possibly limiting his carries, but until Slaton's carry totals are closer to 20 than 30, it's apparent they are going to ride their horse as long as he can go.