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Decision Time for Gillespie, WVU Rushers

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MORGANTOWN -

Aside from its senior leader, the West Virginia running attack will feature a heavy dose of youth in the coming season.

On Saturday, running backs coach Robert Gillespie confirmed that Shawne Alston, who led the team in rushing in January's Orange Bowl, would start the season. A number of freshmen and sophomore ball carriers then fall in behind him.

Alston, who was not available for West Virginia's season opener a year ago, has proven in the games and in the practices since he made it back to full health that he can carry the load for the Mountaineers.

"Shawne's had a great camp and he's left the camp being the top guy," says Gillespie. "[Our] main focus now is to continue to keep him healthy and keep him focused and get him prepared for the first game."

Leading the list of candidates to take the next wave of snaps is sophomore rusher Andrew Buie, who finished 2011 with 172 yards on 51 carries.

Beyond those two returning candidates, the situation becomes slightly less clear.

The top performer last season, now-sophomore Dustin Garrison, is fighting to return to full strength after offseason surgery to repair damage to his ACL and his MCL.

Despite the work he has put in to be available for camp, he may not be close enough to his old self for the coaches to pull the trigger on him as a real option carrying the ball. 

"He's a tough kid," Gillespie says of Garrison. "He's really the kind of kid to where you have to make sure that he's being honest with you when you ask how he's feeling because he won't say he's hurting. He showed a lot of toughness."

The decision now is whether or not the toughness will trump what Garrison may be truly feeling physically at this point with just two weeks of preparation remaining before the season begins. If he cannot go full strength, there is still the option of redshirting the player who racked up 742 yards and six touchdowns in his first year of collegiate football.

That discussion is ongoing within the walls of the Milan Puskar Center as Gillespie and his fellow coaches determine the best course of action.

"As a staff, we have to sit down and talk to the medical staff and see what's the best thing for him," says Gillespie. "Is he strong enough to go in there and protect himself, first of all, and also is he strong enough to go in there and help us win some games? [He] Did a really good job, but we'll sit down here in the next couple of days and make a final decision on that."

A new crop of freshmen who could step into the backfield this season includes the 5-foot-9, 196-pound Florida native Torry Clayton and Miramar product D'Vontis Arnold.

A walk-on to the program, Arnold has caught Gillespie's attention as an athlete capable of pulling his weight and delivering for the team if he were called upon when it counts.
"He came here for free and has paid his own way, but he's a guy that's worked his way into being a guy that we can trust and be comfortable with as a staff if we had to put him in the game," Gillespie says of Arnold.

As a graduate of a high school program that currently boasts six players on the WVU roster, Arnold is just another in a list of athletes who are familiar with each other for the Mountaineers' offense.

While he hasn't played on the same field as the likes of Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey, the connection is there, along with fellow freshman Devonte Mathis, who happens to be playing under scholarship.

"He came in here, he's been able to take some quality reps and done a real good job. So he's a guy that got a lot of carries today," Gillespie said of Saturday's practice. "[I] wanted to see the twos and threes get in there and compete and D'Vontis Arnold did a real good job today."

The depth chart will shake itself out on the field when the season begins, but right now, Gillespie is faced with a few decisions that make the next two weeks a very important time for some players at his position.

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