One Last Run

A few years ago, running back Jason Colson was going to be the next great back at West Virginia. On Monday, he'll play the final game of his career.

In all reality, Colson won't go down in history as one of the greatest players in school history. His name won't be up there with the likes of Amos Zereoue, Adrian Murrell, Avon Cobourne, or Steve Slaton.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, though. Entering last season, Colson was set to be "the man" at running back. Talented freshmen like Slaton and the since-departed Jason Gwaltney were ready to play right away, and sophomore Pernell Williams had finished the 2004 season on a strong note. While all three of those guys would play a lot, Colson was supposed to be the back who took the bulk of the beating. It was going to start off great, with the Rochester native opening the 2005 season back home at Syracuse. He was going to prove to the Orange (who wanted him only as a DB) that he could play running back.

It never happened. Colson fumbled four times in the season opener, and by the time the Virginia Tech game rolled around in October, Rich Rodriguez's patience was wearing thin with Colson and Williams. After a Williams fumble against the Hokies, he inserted Slaton. The rest, as they say, is history. Colson and Williams were out. Slaton was in. A few weeks later, Gwaltney left the program. It didn't matter, as Slaton had cemented himself in one of the great rookie season's in Big East history.

On the Mountaineers went, winning every game but that sunny Saturday affair with VT. On January 2, they lined up against the Georgia Bulldogs for the Sugar Bowl. That night, the Mountaineers recorded the biggest win in school history. Colson had been to three straight January bowls, but on that night in Georgia, he didn't even see the field.

Having been replaced by a rookie, it would have been easy for Jason to pout and give up. It would have been easy for him to make a big deal about it in the media, or divide the locker room. For Colson, nothing in his college career has come easy, and for him to do something selfish like that would have been completely out of character.

"Anything that's happened to me last year and this year is basically just a character builder," Colson said this week while preparing for Monday's Gator Bowl against Georgia Tech. "It's all helped me a lot. It's helped me grow as a man, and it's brought me a lot closer to God. It's just helped me in a lot of aspects in my life."

While he entered last season as the starter and has nine career starts to his credit, the senior doesn't feel that his role has changed a whole lot since his first game back in 2003.

"If you really look at my career, I've always been a back-up," he said. "With Quincy Wilson, and then Kay-Jay (Harris), I was always kind of like the primary back-up. There's really not much of a difference between then and now. You just play the cards that you're dealt."

Did he want to play? Of course. Every player does. But most of all, he wanted to be a teammate and a Mountaineer.

"One time, I was going to leave (transfer) but then I had to think about the team more than myself, you know? I had to set aside my individual goals," he said. "The team always comes first, and that's something that was instilled in me from a young age."

In 2006, Jason's numbers are the smallest of his four year career. The stat sheet shows just 21 carries for 31 yards, with no touchdowns. To know his true impact, you have to go beyond the stat sheet and into the locker room, where No. 24 has become a father figure and mentor to many of his teammates.

"I've been more like a mentor to some of the younger players, and just coaching them up," he explained. "A lot of the coaches, Coach Magee and Coach Stew in particular, always tell me that I should be a coach. (After the bowl) I think that I'm kind of done with the game for a while."

When he signed with WVU in February of 2002, he didn't envision winding down his career like this. Now that he has, he's finding any way possible to help out the team.

"I didn't envision it, but you learn from the older guys like Avon," said the member of the Athletic Director's Academic Honor Roll. "Even though he was a pretty good player, he still looked after me and Erick Phillips when he was still playing. That's something that I added to my repertoire: taking care of the younger guys, even Steve. He's an all-Big East player and an All-American, but I still like helping him out."

Colson's contributions as a leader have not gone unnoticed by Rodriguez and the rest of the team.

"I'm really proud of Jason," Rodriguez said. "He's a fifth year senior that's played a lot of football for us. I think that this year, more than anything, the attitude that he's had has been exemplary. He's been like another coach on the field. I'm really proud of him. He's going to graduate with a great degree, having gone to five bowls and four January bowls. He epitomizes what being a West Virginia football player is all about, and I'm hoping that he'll have a really big day on Monday."

It wasn't supposed to end like this. Colson was supposed to be the guy getting 25-plus carries on Monday. With an injury to Slaton, the senior will likely see some snaps in the backfield. Either way, he'll leave the field with his head held high.

"I have no regrets," he says. "Everything happens for a reason, and I just keep my faith in God.

"I've set my priorities more with school, life, and everything else. I've done a lot of growing up last year and this year, and hopefully it will help me for years to come."

From that, we can all learn a lesson.

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