Two things happened last year, though, that helped propel Alston into the role he now finds himself. In a game against Rutgers in a New Jersey snowstorm, he ran for 110 yards - his first 100-yard day. And then, when Garrison was injured, he started the 70-33 rout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, setting a career high for carries with 20.
The Rutgers game in the snow might actually have been a blow of sorts in that Alston was further typecast as a big back who was to be used in situations that called for a bullish runner. But it was also the first time he'd ever carried as many as 14 times in a game, so he did dispel any thoughts that he didn't have the endurance to be an every-down back.
The Orange Bowl further dispelled those doubts. It made the coaches sit up and take notice.
"I think last year they kind of limited me to short-yardage and goal-line situations just because sometimes they wanted to watch how many reps I got and didn't want me to get too banged up,'' Alston said. "But now I think I can be more of an all-around back - getting out of the backfield, blocking, catching passes, all the kinds of things you can do in this offense. The more I can prove I can do those things, the more I'll play.''
Alston is certainly the most physically imposing of West Virginia's backs. Whereas Garrison and Andrew Buie are smaller, shiftier runners, Alston is built like a power back but now is out to prove he's more than just that.
In order to do so, though, he's going to have to keep his weight down. He's listed on the roster at 235 pounds. During the summer and at the start of fall camp he was into the 240s. Ask him if he's still in the 240s, though, and the answer is quick and almost defensive.
"Let's say 238,'' he smiled.
Gillespie wants him to shed a little more, but both he and Alston agree that losing too much weight would change the nature of his game.
"I don't think I'm going to get down to any 220 area,'' Alston said. "That might change my style of running and I think I'm effective where I'm at.''
How effective remains to be seen, at least to the outside world. Alston's teammates and coaches might know what he's capable of doing, but it could be a surprise to anyone else.
"I think I might be able to take it 55 yards in conditions that don't involve snow,'' Alston said.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.