FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- His season began on the bench, a lingering neck injury from a car accident refusing to go away.
He now ends the season as the starting running back in the Discover Orange Bowl.
"It feels good to know I didn't lose focus, my coaches and teammates kept believing in me," Alston said Monday during a media availability for West Virginia's offensive players. "I kept working hard to get back."
Even at the moments he was most discouraged, his teammates picked him up, telling him, "C'mon, man. We need you. You've got to get back."
He finally returned for the Maryland game, and has seen his carries steadily increase since then. But he still has to wear the neck roll because he is not quite 100 percent.
In addition to that, Alston also played through a leg injury late in the season, which forced him to wear a big, bulky bandage. He got hit in his leg a few times during the Louisville game, and trainers were worried he would get compartment syndrome, where pressure in the muscles build and blood flow can be constrained.
Alston was able to start the Cincinnati game the following week, but was limited to 6 yards on seven carries. The most he has carried it this season is 14 times, in a win over Rutgers. Still, he leads the team with 10 touchdown runs and though he is viewed more as a power back, Alston says he can shoulder the load.
But he isn't expected to do it alone. True freshman Andrew Buie, who also missed several games this season with various injuries, is expected to get some carries as well. Buie came into fall camp competing with Garrison and Vernard Roberts for the starting job, but Garrison pulled ahead and Buie only had 38 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown this season.
"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "I tried to stay as prepared as I can all season, just in case something did happen. Right now, I just have to step up and do the best I can."
Buie is much faster than Alston, and both are good at pass blocking. But where this team could be hurt most is in the passing game, where Garrison was a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield in the short passing game West Virginia likes to run.
Garrison is tied for fourth on the team with 24 receptions. Buie and Alston have combined for 11 catches this season. Though receiver Tavon Austin has experience in the backfield, he said Monday he didn't expect his role to change going into this game.
"We'll be doing what we've been doing previously," Austin said.