MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A year ago, Shawne Alston was on the sideline in the preseason, recovering still from a lingering neck injury suffered in a car accident.
A year later the "Boss" (as he's nicknamed) is ready to lead the way at running back -- one of the few position battles on the West Virginia offense this preseason camp.
"I'm ready to come in and show the world what I can do," Alston said last week.
So is Dustin Garrison, a freshman starter from a year ago who is returning from knee surgery.
And so is Andrew Buie, a 5-foot-9 sophomore who said he's more confident this time around.
It's a problem for no one in Mountaineers blue and gold -- in that all three bring a little something different to the table, and come Sept. 1 figure to be key part of the offensive backfield.
"We got a very lethal backfield coming back this year," said Alston, built more like a fullback at 5-11, 235 pounds. "I think it's very beneficial for us to have a whole bunch of different backs. I think all of us can do things a fullback can do.
"You can't replace Ryan Clarke because he's an excellent player, but sometimes I can come in and play fullback and we can have more running backs in the backfield which will keep the defense guessing."
Alston missed the first two weeks of the season last year before getting into the lineup against Maryland.
His best rushing performance came in the snow at Rutgers -- a career high 110 yards -- but as the season developed his value spiked -- as a blocking back and a ball carrier. He finished with 12 touchdowns and 416 rushing yards.
Buie (5-11, 187), meanwhile, was a heralded recruit, but suffered a shoulder injury and had some minor ball security issues in the early part of the season. He finished with one touchdown and 172 rushing yards.
He said he is far and away more prepared physically and mentally this year.
"Last year I could honestly say I don't think my body was 100 percent ready to play in a college game," Buie said. "Learning how to read defenses and have myself more prepared pre-snap, versus getting into the play and just guessing what's going on the whole time."
That brings us to Garrison, who emerged after Buie's injury to rush for a freshman-record 291 yards against Bowling Green last year. But he's yet to take a hit since his well-documented injury leading up to the Orange Bowl that led to surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament and months of rehabilitation.
Contact drills don't begin until this week.
Asked if he's thought about what that first hit might feel like?
"Um, hmm," he said, as his eyes widened. "I've been thinking about it but I'm just anxious to get back on the field.
"I'm not really worried about anything. I'm running like nothing ever happened. The only thing that bothers me is sudden stops -- but that's the knee brace because I'm not used to it."
In all, running backs coach Robert Gillespie said the staff doesn't plan on getting caught up in who will start and who won't.
"I asked the guys the other day, 'Who started the first game last year?' Andrew Buie shot his hand up," Gillespie said. "'Who started the last game?' Shawne Alston raised his hand. That is what this season can come to again.
"We don't know who the starters are going to be, and who is going to finish the season so all of those guys know that we are going to need every hat in that room in order for us to win that championship. So those guys are just working hard, and they are a very unselfish group."
First Published August 6, 2012 4:00 AM