MORGANTOWN - Shawne Alston showed up at August practices with huge neck roll sticking out from under his shirt, and it promptly earned him the new name of Shawne Alstott, a reference to the former Purdue and Tampa Bay Buccaneer running back who often left bruised opponents in his wake.
While Alston laughs off the references, he has become the more physical of the West Virginia University running backs trying to earn a position in the backfield of this new offense.
"I think I can be a consistent back," Alston said. "I hope the coaches can find my niche."
The Inter-Mountain photo by John Wickline
West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston runs through drills during a recent practice at Mountaineer Field.
Alston entered spring drills as the heir apparent to succeed Noel Devine in the backfield, having spelled the speedy runner in several games in which Devine was injured.
Alston ran for 248 yards on 56 carries, including games of 71 yards against Pitt and 75 yards against Cincinnati.
"I came in on a lot of pass-blocking situations," he added. "Anybody can run the ball at this level. The difference is catching the ball out of the backfield and pass blocking."
But a nagging neck injury suffered in last year's game against Maryland and aggravating it in a January car accident prevent Alston from participating in spring drills where a new offensive scheme was being installed under coach Dana Holgorsen.
"Missing spring was definitely tough," he said. "I was disappointed in myself because I was falling behind. That was the biggest thing about spring not being able to show the coaches what I could do."
But the offensive coaching staff, along with Holgorsen, took notice of the Hampton, Va., native when he returned for August practices.
"Shawne Alston is a good football player," Holgorsen said. "He doesn't have the burst (of speed) the other guys do, but that doesn't mean he won't play.
"We'll find something for him to do. Shawne is a guy that we are going to find a way for him to play."
The Mountaineers are searching for a third quarterback, but don't look for Alston to return to the place he played during his first two seasons of high school football.
"I can't play quarterback at this level," he said. "It's a whole different game here."
Instead, he will relish the opportunities afforded to him in the early going of practice, trying to earn playing time among his fellow running backs.
"I think the coaches know what I can do," Alston said. "The competition (for playing time) has been at a very high level. Nobody has an assigned job, and there's no depth chart. It's going to be who's more consistent. It's who works the hardest."