Shawne Alston sits down in the team meeting room, ready to meet the media with a book in his hands.
It is not the West Virginia football playbook, but rather a novel. He is reading Power & Beauty, a work of fiction by rap artist Tip "T.I." Harris and one of many books that he and his family have passed around over the years.
"My grandfather used to make me read when I was like three years old because he didn't learn to read until he was almost in his 20s," Alston says, clutching his latest story. "So me, my mom and my sister buy books and trade them off. It's a hobby of mine."
Alston's reading list recently has been more of the textbook variety. While he fields questions about his role in WVU's offense this fall, the senior running back has already completed one of the greatest challenges that faces a student-athlete – the academics.
In May, Alston walked across the stage at WVU's commencement ceremony and received his undergraduate degree in criminology. It took him just three years to achieve the feat, all while dedicating himself equally to sports and to education.
He credits his uncle with pointing him in the right direction since before he even got to Morgantown.
"Shawne, you just have to go in there and you have to work hard," Alston's uncle told him the summer before his freshman year. "If you go hard the first two semesters, it's easy to stay up high, but if you do badly, then you've got to come up from the bottom and it's going to be pretty hard."
With those words etched in his mind, Alston worked in his first two semesters to get a good start in the classroom all while contributing to the Mountaineers football team as a true freshman.
When the year ended and he and his teammates continued classwork through the summer months, he began to realize what he could accomplish if he kept on working at his current rate.
"I started looking at my credits and I'm like, wow, I can do this thing in three [years]," says Alston. "I talked to some people in academics and they told me that if I finish my undergrad, then they'll start paying for my grad school, so I said that's the plan."
The plan remains on track. With one class remaining to finish his undergraduate studies – a course in Spanish – Alston is preparing himself to begin work toward a graduate degree in legal studies.
All of this is done with his sights on his future once his final season with the Mountaineers is wrapped up and his professional career begins.
"I'll shoot my shot with the NFL, see how that thing goes and then I'll finish that, move over to law school and become a criminal defense attorney," he says.
Alston says he has always had an interest in law, much of which stemmed from his youth. A Hampton, Va. native, he witnessed inner city crime first hand and knew in those days that he wanted to do something to help stop it.
"Crime was always around me. I grew up around it, a lot of my family was involved in it and I have a knack for what people call debating, but it's really arguing," Alston says. "It's something that I will enjoy."
In his time at WVU, Alston points to one class that stood out to him and one professor who helped him in reaching his goals. A public speaking course taught by Dr. Carolyn Atkins, which helps prepare student-athletes for what they will face in media sessions or just day-to-day life, left the biggest impression on Alston in his undergraduate studies.
Alston, who says he used to "talk really crazy," is now able to speak in front of cameras and voice recorders with ease, a vocal leader of the football team. There is no doubt that confidence in his own words will help immensely as he continues to pursue a career as a criminal defense attorney.
As he looks back at what he has done in his college career on the field to this point, Alston reflects as much on his own personal growth as his athletic success.
"College is a time you grow up and you're away from your parents," he says. "Sometimes you've got to struggle on your own, you've got maybe emotional problems, problems with football, problems with school, girlfriend problems – all types of things and you're just able to go through it. It makes you stronger and it molds you into the person you want to be."
His position coach, Robert Gillespie, will tell you that person Alston has become is precisely who a coach hopes to have in his meeting room.
"He's a good role model for not only the team, but the entire running back group to show why you come to college," says Gillespie. "We want him to have a great senior season, but he's a guy that 10 years down the line, I won't be surprised at him being a successful person in the real world. My hat's off to him."
Alston says he knows his family will be proud of him both for his athletic and his academic achievements and will support him in whichever professional career path he follows.
That said, there is no reason why he cannot work now to put all of his experiences as a student-athlete to good use once he wraps up his time as a Mountaineer.