MORGANTOWN - There was a blip in time last fall - almost a mirage of sorts looking back on it now - when Shawne Alston appeared to be ready for prime time as a West Virginia freshman running back.
It came at the Carrier Dome in WVU's fifth game of the 2009 season, which would wind up as a 34-13 romp, easily the Mountaineers' most lopsided win of the season. With the game safely in hand, the 6-foot, 220-pound Alston was auditioned.
Five carries and 18 yards later, there was a buzz surrounding Alston. On a team with a proven speed back (Noel Devine) and an emerging power runner (Ryan Clarke), it appeared for all the world that Alston might be the perfect combination of the two. On a team that was still trying to emerge from its short-yardage funk, such a weapon seemed invaluable.
It never happened, though. Alston played sparingly a week later against Marshall and never touched the football. Then he never played again.
"I wouldn't say it was a disappointment,'' Alston said last week following a summer conditioning session. "I think I got in a couple of games after that, but I didn't carry the ball. When you don't play it's always a disappointment, but when I look back I'm a lot more prepared now.''
Alston might be the perfect example of a player wasting a year. College football is littered with them, of course. A guy gets a handful of plays here and there to see what he can do, but for the most part he's just a curiosity. For one reason or another he slips into the background, but not before playing just a little too much and ruining a chance at a redshirt that would save a year's eligibility.
Alston, though, doesn't look at it as a wasted year, not by any stretch of the imagination. And you know what? His logic is hard to argue.
"I didn't play a lot, but I practiced a lot against the first-team defense and the second-team defense,'' Alston said. "Look at it this way: If I would have redshirted I probably would have ended up on the scout team. There's nothing wrong with that, but I was getting reps with the first team and the second team in practice. And if you're getting reps you're learning.''
True. Forget that Alston's actual playing time was pretty much limited to that Syracuse game (although he did see action in three previous games and then again against Marshall on special teams or in limited roles on offense).
His point, and it's well taken, is that had he been redshirted he likely would have spent last fall learning a new offense every week, be it Auburn's or Connecticut's or Pitt's. That's what scout team players do. They run the opponent's offense in practice.
But Alston was never asked to imitate Dion Lewis or Ben Tate. He spent the season being Shawne Alston and running West Virginia's offense, and that's perhaps more valuable than the year he might have been able to bank for later had he redshirted.
"Repetition is one of the best things you can do to learn,'' Alston said. "And I got a lot of reps, even though I didn't play much. Coach [Chris] Beatty let me run a lot of inside drills and a lot of seven-on-seven stuff, so I learned.''