Chance to Contribute

While an already-crowded backfield may have become only more packed with the addition of several talented freshmen, one of those newcomers sees the opportunity to contribute right away.

True freshman Shawne Alston is officially listed at 6-feet tall and 222 pounds. At that size, he's considerably larger than the vast majority of the running backs already in the WVU arsenal.

And while no freshman -- not Alston, not similarly-named and highly-praised speedster Tavon Austin -- will be unseating Noel Devine as the Mountaineers' No. 1 option at tailback this season, Alston feels he has a chance to contribute in one particular area of the offense.

"I think I can help my team because there's a lot of smaller backs," said the Hampton, Va., native. "We're different style runners. What I feel like I can add to and be really effective at is the short-yardage game right now."

If Alston could step up into that role, it would certainly help lift a burden from the shoulders of both his position coach Chris Beatty and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.

The offense's struggles with short-yardage situations have been the subject of much discussion in the offseason, and as the use of a new "Bubba" package in last Saturday's scrimmage showed, Mullen is willing to try just about anything in those situations at least once to try to find the solution.

For Alston, who turned down offers from Penn State, Maryland and Illinois among other schools to attend WVU, the mentality of a short-yardage running back is simple.

"Basically, you've just got to read off blocks and try to get downhill and get the first down," he said. "I think I can help with that because I have good vision and I'm used to running downhill."

"It's pretty much one cut and go. You've got to find a hole, get through it and get your pads down and go downhill."

While the philosophy may be simple, the ability to execute is something else entirely. Running backs coach Beatty has given Alston a few pointers on what to work on in his second week as a college football player.

"One thing I've got to work on is getting my pads more square with the line of scrimmage, because that gives you more power when you're running through," Alston said. "I'm working on pad level. I think I'm doing a pretty good job, but there's always room for improvement."

That improvement will only come with time in practice. Alston said the West Virginia coaching staff certainly makes the most of its time in those sessions, going as far as to say that the tempo of practice has been the biggest adjustment between the high school and college games.

"It seems like we're always moving from station to station with no break in between, whereas in high school you might get a chance to stand around here or there," he said. "It just seems like we're always moving."

"When I was in high school and before I got to college, I'd talk to friends of mine who were playing college ball and they would tell me, ‘It's uptempo.' So I knew it was uptempo, but this was more than I imagined."

Impressing the coaches in those practices will be the biggest key for Alston as he works to avoid taking a redshirt his freshman season.

Mullen had previously said that the coaches will have a general idea in mind of which freshmen will play by the end of fall camp, making the next few days of pivotal importance to Alston and the other newcomers.

"Camp isn't over yet," he said. "I've still got a lot of work to do, but as long as I keep working hard, I should be able to avoid (the redshirt). But if it happens, it happens."

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