By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In a way, it might have been nice if West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston could have shared the pain he was enduring, but in this world as it is constituted about the one thing you have all to yourself is your pain.
See, here he was, this big, strong, tough guy, a muscular 230 or more pounds who is an inside runner, a guy who bangs with the big guys in a sport where toughness is king, so much so that literally hundreds of players before him would simply shake off concussions and go back into games without even so much as memory of the hit that had made them vulnerable.
If they could have said that Alston had torn a muscle or broken a bone or shredded a tendon, people could have understood and offered sympathy, but his injury was diagnosed as nothing more than a deep thigh bruise.
A thigh bruise? How much could that hurt? How much danger really could he be in?
He suffered it early in the James Madison game, right after he had established himself as a force to contend with by being the leading rusher in the Orange Bowl rout and then carrying it over into this year with a 123-yard performance against Marshall.
He carried on as much as he could in the JMU game, finished with 14 carries and as the team’s leading rusher with 62 yards, but he knew something was more serious than just a bruise.
“I was able to play through it. I caught a shot there, and it got worse and worse as the game went on. I wasn’t able to move my leg or have any type of knee drive,” he said.
That game was in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, and when he returned, he got treatment, but there was no improvement.
“It’s like a build-up of pressure in your leg. You can’t bend it back at all. I couldn’t kick it up at all. I had pain walking around. I couldn’t get up stairs. I had to turn sideways and get help to get up. People think of a bruise ... well, I played with contusions. Every running back gets that,” he said.
Eventually, they discovered it was more than just a bruising of the muscle. It had gone into the thigh bone, and there was blood and some deterioration of the bone itself. Specialists from Atlanta were consulted, and Alston spent hours upon hours in the training room and the weight room.
“My body couldn’t absorb all the blood, so I had to get a couple of procedures done to help it out. There was some calcification forming in there. It was a hassle to get strength back in my leg. I don’t have the strength I had,” he said.
Even now, having returned to some action this week, he estimates he’s just 65 to 70 percent of what he was, that he was nothing like the running back who tortured Marshall with his power game inside.
There were times, thinking back a year earlier when he was involved in an automobile accident that was not his fault, injuring his neck and costing him half his junior year, that he would think, “Why me?”
“I was thinking it was karma. I probably did something bad in my life,” he said.
Getting back and scoring a touchdown was important, but he knows there’s a long way to go.
“I’ll get back to 100 percent. We have a good strength and medical staff. My training regimen is like crazy. I’m always in there. They put up a picture of me I was in there so much,” he said.
His coach, Dana Holgorsen, also knows he has only part of a football player there.
“His presence was good. His mentality was good. His health was not good. He’s a different guy now than he was the first couple of games,” Holgorsen said after seeing him play. “He was more healthy than he was the two weeks prior to that, which is why he suited up. He will continue to rehab and continue to work through it and practice more. It didn’t look the same, and that’s why we didn’t play him much.”
Oddly, they did not talk of redshirting him, even though he had that option.
“Some people like to redshirt. I enjoyed my time here. I already had my degree. If they had come to me and talked to me about it, maybe, but everyone agreed I’d be able to come back and help the team this year. It never crossed anyone’s mind,” he said.
Well, now the season is making the turn into the homestretch, and much of the biggest goals have gone away via a three-game losing streak. Alston will try to help down the strength, try to get back to 100 percent, try to salvage what might have been an NFL career.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.