MORGANTOWN - Beginning with spring practices and continuing through the entirety of the August preseason, Robert Gillespie never wavered in either his praise of or belief in Shawne Alston.
He was proving himself not only to be far better than he'd ever been before, but clearly the best of West Virginia's running backs.
So when Alston began his senior season with a rather remarkable - not to mention career high - 123-yard rushing day in the Mountaineers' 69-34 dismantling of Marshall, it shouldn't have come as that much of a surprise to anyone who had listened to and believed Gillespie, the team's second-year running backs coach.
Still, seeing Alston run through defenders was an eye opener.
Well, at least it was to most everyone besides Gillespie.
"It didn't,'' Gillespie said when asked if even he was surprised by Alston's performance. "I mean, I'm not a guy who is going to sit here and try to surprise you guys. I was always honest and said I believed that he was a different guy."
Well, perhaps not different, but finally healthy. That's something Alston had not been since his freshman season. And back then his chances to show what he could do were rather limited given that the Mountaineers had a guy named Noel Devine running for 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns and Ryan Clarke filling the short-yardage role and scoring eight times. Alston played in five games and carried the ball just six times, effectively wasting what could have been a redshirt year that would now make him a junior, not a senior.
After that, a knee injury slowed his preparation for his sophomore season and a neck injury suffered in a car accident set him back before last year.
Then again, by the end of the season Alston was healthy and began showing flashes. He had that 110-yard performance in a snowstorm at Rutgers, then started the Orange Bowl when Dustin Garrison was injured and gained 77 yards.
"He got better as the year went on and he was never really healthy,'' Gillespie said. "He finally became a healthy guy and his confidence grew and he practiced that way. He practiced hard; he finishes his runs and competes. You're going to play the way you practice and he's a prime example of that.''