WVU has become a destination for running backs that are small of stature but large on ability. The WVU football team has featured an undersized tailback since the late 1960‘s. Jim Carlen started the trend with Bob Gresham, and subsequent coaches have followed his lead.
Recently, Noel Devine decided to return to WVU for his senior season. His backup, Jock Sanders made the same decision. Sanders is also the starting slot receiver. Devine is listed at 5’8”, 176 pounds. Sanders is listed at 5’7”, 178 pounds.
The list of accomplishments by WVU running backs is impressive. The list of names of past WVU running backs is equally impressive. The stature of the players on that list is a different story.
Noel Devine’s decision to return for his senior season at WVU means that the trend will continue through 2010. With the exception of Devine, each of the running backs on WVU’s top 10 list played at least one year in the NFL.
NAME HEIGHT WEIGHT RUSHING YARDS
1- Avon Cobourne
2- Amos Zereoue
3- Steve Slaton
4- Noel Devine
5- Artie Owens
6- Robert Walker
7- Quincy Wilson
8- Robert Alexander
9- Undra Johnson
10- Bob Gresham
Statistics provided by WVUstats.com.
The stat that is missing from this list is player speed. The names on the list of top 10 running backs all represent some of the fastest players to ever wear the WVU uniform.
WVU coaches have long preferred to recruit speed at the running back position over size. To date, that philosophy has proved successful.
Of the list of top 10 running backs of all time at WVU, Robert Alexander is the tallest at 6' 1". Quincy Wilson is listed as the heaviest weighing 215 pounds. Neither represent the ideal combined height and weight for a running back.
When was the last time WVU had a starting running back, with the numbers these backs have produced, that fit the ultimate mold, 6'2″, 225 pounds?
The answer is Garrett Ford Sr. Ford graduated from WVU in 1967. Ford’s size would be considered ideal at 6’2”, 224lbs. Ford is the last running back with ideal size to run for more than 1,000 yards in a season, with 1,068 yards in 1966.
Sure WVU has recruited big running backs. None, since Ford, have fulfilled the promise their recruitment created. Of the list of top 25 rushing leaders for a season at WVU, Ford is the biggest.
Another, K.J. Harris deserves mention. In 2004, Harris ran for 959 yards. K.J. was 6’2”, 245 pounds. His 2003 yards were 524. Those two seasons represent Harris’s career at WVU.
Harris’ final year, 2004, is the last year that WVU did not field a running back that ran for more than 1,000 yards.
The latest running back to attempt to end the search for the big back at WVU is Shawne Alston. Alston is listed at 6’0”, 218 pounds. Keep in mind that Alston was a true freshman in 2009.
Additional years in the WVU training program will certainly add muscle and weight to Alston’s frame. Due to his youth, additional growth is also possible. Still, Alston is the tallest running back on WVU’s roster.
Bill Stewart and his staff thought enough of Alston to forgo redshirting him this past season. Alston saw limited playing time in three games. Alston shows six rushes for 18 yards in 2009.
Another running back that saw playing time as a true freshman was Tavon Austin. Austin is listed at 5’9”, 164 pounds. The majority of Austin’s playing time was at slot receiver, as he was Sanders’ back up.
Currently there is one running back listed on WVU’s commit list for 2010, Trey Johnson. Johnson is a 5’8”, 185 pound prospect from Richmond, Virginia.
Devine is listed as the fourth all-time leader for running backs at WVU. Devine has an outside shot at the top spot. He needs 1,784 yards to replace Avon Cobourne. Devine’s senior campaign will be interesting to watch.
Barring injury, Devine should easily move into second place on the all-time list. Yet, it will be his chase for the top spot that will provide interest throughout the season.
Devine has never mentioned publicly his desire to be the top running back of all time at WVU. Fans can speculate it was a factor in his decision to return for his senior year.
WVU is well stocked at the running back position. The physical abilities of the backs on the roster should assure WVU continued excellence in the seasons to come. Speed, not size, is the defining factor. The numbers that speed has represented over the years should make WVU fans change their definition of stature.