After two frustrating seasons, Sinkfield gets it together

West Virginia running back Alec Sinkfield (20) rushes the ball against Baylor.

Alec Sinkfield, the West Virginia University running back, admits it was frustrating his first couple of seasons with WVU.

People spoke of his speed, his ability to make guys miss, that he would be the breakaway back they needed ... but every time he tried it seemed something went wrong.

“It was definitely frustrating dealing with those ankle injuries and not being able to play to my full potential,” the 5-foot-9, 193-pounder out of Boynton Beach, Florida, said earlier this week as preparations for Saturday’s noon game against Kansas were just getting underway.

“But this year, due to COVID, I had a lot of time to work on myself and focus on the things I need to get better at by myself,” he said.

Finally, someone has found a way to benefit during the COVID crisis.

The results have been evident. He has rushed for more yards in three games this season (197) than he did as a freshman and sophomore combined and Coach Neal Brown is still trying to work out how to use him and Leddie Brown to get maximum capacity out of a two-headed running attack.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of getting him the ball against Baylor,” Brown said this week. “We’re a production-based business so, if you continue to produce, then you got to get the football. We didn’t do a good job of that. He had some good runs and catches.”

What Sinkfield was asked to concentrate on most while working out in the never-ending off-season was his elusiveness. He had shown great ability there in high school but the ankles made cutting a painful experience and he just had to deal with it.

“The first thing is believing you can do it. I always knew I could do it but I just wasn’t getting the opportunities to show I could do it,” Sinkfield said.

“This year we emphasized any time you get the ball, the first person in front of you can’t tackle you. And good luck to the second person. We worked on making that first person miss.”

It was said with conviction. .... “the first person in front of you can’t tackle you, And good luck to the second person.”

Sinkfield and Leddie Brown present an interesting challenge to defenses because they are nothing alike as runners.

“I think I bring more of an excitement and electricity to the party and he’s more the power. We do work great together,” Sinkfield said.

“He can do what Leddie doesn’t do,” Brown said. “He’s not as big, but he can run between the tackles. I don’t change the call based on which running back is in the game.”

Brown is the featured back, Sinkfield the change of pace who brings something else to the table and that’s the ability to catch and return punts.

In this area he remains a work in progress.

“I would really like him to be more active as a punt returner,” Brown said.

Sinkfield says he’s been working toward that.

“Moving forward, I’m now taking chances. I have a better understanding of where my blocking is going to be, where the most space is, getting vertical and getting the most yards I can,” he said.

Being a punt returner can make you a game changer — both ways. Fumble a punt and you may cost a game. Let one bounce and have it roll inside the 5 and put your team in an impossible field position hole.

But break a long return and you will be a hero.

It’s a tough job. You are trying to catch a ball soaring through the air in the wind with 11 defenders coming down on you.

“I guess at some point it’s nerve wracking but you get a chance to peak at some time between the ball leaving the punter’s foot and when it gets to you,” he said.

And sometimes you have to look out for your own man, as happened against Baylor when Bryce Ford-Wheaton ran into him while blocking as he was trying to catch the ball.

“The thing with Bryce was a once in a lifetime kind of thing. Baylor’s punter did a real good job of hanging the ball up there and it was just a bad ball around,” Sinkfield said. “Punt return takes a lot of focus and it’s all timing.”

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