Taking Advantage

Ask WVU head coach Bill Stewart, and he would likely tell you there are few, if any, positives to having players forced into the green and red jerseys worn by those limited and held out of practice. But for Shawne Alston, those injuries, which have hindered some of his teammates, may have helped his growth this spring.

Particularly, the occasional limitations for fellow reserve running back Daquan Hargrett, opened up the opportunity for some extra repetitions in practice.

"Spring's going good so far," said Alston. "I've been able to get a lot of reps. Daquan hurt himself, and that's never a good thing. But I've been able to get reps with the ones and the twos, so it's a good spring so far."

Indeed, Alston got plenty of carries on Tuesday -- so many, in fact, that the rising sophomore was gasping for air after practice was over and twice had to ask for a brief break in our interview, just to allow him to catch his breath.

But the Hampton, Va., native said he would take a bit of extra exhaustion if it meant he would gain valuable experience in practice.

"It's a different look. The ones, sometimes they bring it a little harder," said Alston. "That's not taking anything away from the twos, because they try to give us a good look also. It's been fun running with both."

"(Running backs) coach (Chris Beatty) gets a little bit better look at me when I run with the ones, because in a game, you're obviously running against ones. So it's good."

That can be a double-edged sword or a younger player like Alston. Running against West Virginia's best defenders can give him confidence in his ability to play against top-notch competition.

But on those occasions he doesn't gave great success, it can also serve as a wake-up call as to just how much he has to work on certain things if he hopes to fulfill his self-proclaimed goal of becoming an every-down back for the Mountaineers in the future.

"When you run against the ones and you make a good play, it makes you feel good about yourself," he said, grinning. "But then, if you take a play off against the ones you'll know it. Because if you take a play off, they'll come hit you -- like (linebacker) J.T. (Thomas). You're going to know it."

For Alston to become an every-down back, he'll also have to further hone his identity in Beatty's backfield.

Current starter Noel Devine is rightly seen as a shifty, speedy threat to go the distance on any play he touches the ball. Fullback Ryan Clarke became a sort of change-up choice last season, using his strength to gain ground on short-yardage plays.

But Alston sees himself as something between the two, equipped to do a little bit of everything.

"I'm a bruiser also. I can run hard," he said. "I wouldn't say I'm particularly a speed back, but I'm probably a step faster than Ryan."

"(I can help in) goal line situations. I'm trying to improve on my pass blocking and routes out of the backfield. But I really want to become an every-down back, so I'm just coming out here trying to compete hard and help myself become a complete player."

And as for what Beatty has said Alston needs to work on to become that "complete" running back? "There are always things needed for improvement – pad level, speed, getting my legs up when I go through the hole, being able to read defenses to pick up blitzes when they come, all sorts of things," said Alston.

The work being put in to make himself better in those areas may explain why the running back was breathless coming off the field from practice.

Alston is putting time and effort into his craft now, with the hopes of being back on that same field more regularly in actual games this season.

"I know there's some extra reps to be got in there," he said. "I'm just trying to work hard in practice and earn some of those."

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