West Virginia running back Shawne Alston dives in for a touchdown against Marshall Sept. 1 in Morgantown, W.Va. Alston might be drafted next week by the NFL, but if not, he isn't worried because he has a plan for his future.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Fast money comes in the NFL to a lucky few.
Shawne Alston knows that much.
West Virginia's brawny running back is not a much-hyped or highly touted first-round pick. He can't run like the wind like his wide receiver pal Tavon Austin, or throw a perfect fade over the outside shoulder to a receiver in full stride like quarterback Geno Smith.
He's old school power football.
On NFL draft weekend, his name might or might not be called. Come summer, he might or might not be in an NFL camp.
He has a backup plan: law school.
"You can't take anything for granted," said Alston. "I'm just realistic."
From the streets of Hampton, Va., to the beginning of a career in football or law, Alston did what some of his friends were not lucky enough to do: survive, prosper, and learn to listen along the way. He already has been accepted into two graduate programs, and law school is penciled in after that. He hopes to squeeze in a football career, too.
"I'm definitely going to graduate law school. It's always been in the back of my head," said Alston, who rushed for 1,068 career yards at West Virginia. "I want to pursue my football career. I love football. But the chances of making it in the NFL are low. People look at the fast money. At the end of the day, you want to look at a career after your education."
The realization did not come out of thin air. There was a day when fast money lit up the young man's eyes. It got Alston nabbed for selling cocaine in the neighborhood of his youth and changed his life.
"I don't think a lot of people out there selling drugs at a young age realize what they're doing," said Alston. "I really didn't know what I was doing. I was doing it from a money perspective. I didn't see that it hurt families, caused crime, murders."
He was a teenager when he was picked up on a corner by a narcotics unit in a neighborhood where guns and drugs seemed to find their way into many young people's hands.
Alston said he served six days in juvenile detention that spring and spent nearly three months under house arrest before his case was dismissed later that summer after petitioning the courts and saying he was planning on switching schools to better his life.
"I realized what I had done. It set in. No more football," said Alston.
Around him, friends were going to jail, dying; some are currently in prison.
Eventually, Alston was permitted to transfer to Phoebus High School across town. Phoebus ran the ball a lot. Alston was a perfect fit. And that's where coach Bill Dee comes in.
Dee, now an assistant at Old Dominion, served as a coach and father figure to Alston and plays host to him for holiday dinners and trips home.
"He was a little rough around the edges. But, when we got him, things started to turn around for him in football and school," said Dee. "He's a very intelligent kid. He used to pass books onto my wife he had read but [he] didn't want the other kids to think he was a nerd."
His grandfather, who spent more than a dozen years in prison for a crime he never discussed with his grandson, taught him to read.
"He used to sit me on his lap and make me read the newspaper every day," said Alston. "He wouldn't let me read the comics. I had to read to him."
Alston's mother, Asha, worked in retail and late on school nights, so he was raised by grandparents, aunt and uncles.
"They talked to him a lot and said that's not the life you want to live," Asha Alston said. "If you can complete high school, for a young black man these days that's an accomplishment ... for any young person. They would talk to him and tell him what you get out of doing the right things and what you get out of the wrong things."
She saw her son starting to take school seriously in the 11th grade. His mindset changed, his focus tightened, and she felt he was on the right path again. He started to make the honor roll.
"His mindset was 'I've got to do this now. I've got to do this right.' He was maybe 16," recalled his mom. "Until this day, Shawne will buy a book and can be done by the end of the day."
At West Virginia, Alston grew into a rugged fullback, and the team's best option in short-yardage situations. But there were setbacks because of injuries.
The winter before his junior season, he was hit by a drunken driver with alcohol and marijuana in her system. A lingering neck injury cost him several games. Last year, a deep thigh bruise cut short what began as a banner senior season..
He returned by season's end and was the guy who was always smiling in the interview room, drawing a pack of reporters for a tale. There was joy and confidence behind his eyes.
Those close to him are not surprised by his plans to enter law school.
"If the NFL doesn't work out, I expect him to be a lawyer," Dee said. "He's smart. And he knows what he wants. He hung around some of that element. Some guys are in jail. It's a tough area. But I always knew he was sharp. He was smart. I felt like when you talk, he listens; that he wanted to do better for himself."
Alston said last week he will pursue an MBA at the University of the Southwest. Online classes begin June 4 but he will put that on hold if the NFL works out.
He's down to 232 pounds from 245 at season's end and ran at pro day at 228. He said he's hearing good things.
"I've heard from some teams that they like me a lot," said Alston.
He will spend draft week at his mom's house in Virginia, but a million miles beyond where he once was.
"I think the biggest thing is as I got older I got smarter," said Alston. "The background that I come from is present ... where I'm from, you see those things, but you don't have to fall victim. It matters how strong a person is. I fell to it, but I bounced back.