We continue the parallel countdown series (to accompany the regular Friday unit previews) of five WVU Freshmen To Watch in the 2009 season, which kicks off at home against I-AA Liberty at noon on Sept. 5.
I'll count them down from No. 5 to No. 1. Understand that I'm not saying these players will pan out or even end up playing. I'm saying that these are five (maybe six) freshmen whom the coaches have identified as being groomed for contribution, who likely will avoid redshirting and who have looked good so far according to accounts of the spring and August practices, as passed on to me by observers there.
No. 5 was backup-quarterback-in-waiting Eugene (Geno) Smith.
No. 4 is running back Shawne Alston.
Alston is your man if you like tall, thick, move-the-pile running backs with championship pedigrees.
He came from Virginia's Phoebus High, the star-making program from the Hampton Roads area, which Alston led to two consecutive state titles. He's at WVU because of the recruiting skills of running back/slot coach Chris Beatty, whom Coach Stewart brought on board specifically to tap his Southside Virginia bona fides, pulling talent from that fertile soil. WVU won Alston, beating out Penn State, Illinois and Maryland.
Alston's calling card: Downhill, downhill, downhill. Hit. Hole. Hard.
WVU has not had a punishing running back like this since Quincy Wilson. Alston has the ability to be the jackhammer to Noel Devine's whipsaw.
Size, nearly meaningless high school stats: He is a legitimate six-feet tall and weighs 222 pounds. As a senior, he rushed for 2,278 yards and scored 34 touchdowns, including 971 yards and 10 touchdowns in the playoffs.
The plan: Alston is unlikely to redshirt, unlike his fellow beefy running backs Chris Snook and the excellently named Branko Busick, simply because WVU needs one change-of-pace big back and Alston is winning that spot in August camp.
He doesn't have the breakaway speed of Devine, Jock Sanders or Tavon Austin (who likely will spend more time at slot) but he's what the Mountaineers have not had in some time: a clock-eating, fourth-quarter pounder who makes already weary defenses really hate life.
Where you'll see Smith on the field this year: Behind quarterback Jarrett Brown and fullback Ryan Clarke in the I-formation, alongside Devine in the split-back formation.
Video: Click here.
(This is video of Phoebus winning a state title last year. A couple of observations: This is a really, really good-looking football team, with athletes everywhere. Second, the quarterback is Tajh Boyd, who committed to WVU, then changed his mind, going to Tennessee, which kicked him out, so he landed at Clemson. Aside from looking like a flake, he threw a bunch of picks in this game)