MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -Look out, West Virginia opponents. Noel Devine anticipates his workload could quadruple this season.
That's right, the one-time backup to Steve Slaton who averaged 8.6 yards per carry as a freshman has moved into the starting role at running back for the run-happy Mountaineers.
With Slaton gone to the NFL, Devine is expected to get the majority of the touches alongside quarterback Pat White in No. 8 West Virginia's season opener Saturday against Villanova.
Just how many is anyone's guess, but Devine wants it piled on thick.
``It's all about heart, and I have a big heart,'' Devine said.
Hearts went out to Devine last year as the story of his personal life unfolded.
He lost his parents to AIDS, witnessed a friend's murder, rejected Deion Sanders' attempts to adopt him and became a father of two before his rushing career at North Fort Myers (Fla.) High became an Internet highlight reel.
Now that he's settled in, Devine only has to answer questions about football. He's not a rookie anymore. At 20, he's not so shy, not so soft-spoken and considered by teammates a leader.
Devine's ability to change directions with little loss of speed has drawn comparisons to NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. He doesn't mind knocking over defenders and carrying a few along the way. And like Sanders, he's able to hide behind his linemen until the right moment comes along to dash out into the open.
It's only a matter of time before Devine finds out whether his 5-foot-8 frame can take the extra pounding. He averaged only six carries per game last year in compiling 627 yards.
Despite Devine wanting more, running backs coach Chris Beatty isn't tipping his hat on the player's workload.
``You want to be smart,'' Beatty said. ``You want Noel playing through the middle 25 times a game, so we're going to be smart and figure out what he does best and what gives him the best chance for success.''
Devine already has proven he can take over a game.
On national television in Week 3 against Maryland, Devine piled up 125 yards on his first three carries. After Slaton was knocked out of the Fiesta Bowl early with a leg injury, Devine rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yarder in the fourth quarter that clinched the 48-28 win over Oklahoma.
``When the time comes, we'll see,'' Devine said. ``I'm doing more to be above average and working harder than everybody else. I'm looking forward to proving myself.''
For some reason he believes he didn't do that that last season, so he has spent more time studying plays and film.
``It's like a business, and I had to learn that,'' Devine said. ``You will be a better running back when you study the game. Being around the coaches and being in the meeting rooms, they know their stuff and that made me want to know my stuff. I have to know where the holes will be and who I'll have to block.''
Slaton's exit created a hole in the depth chart and West Virginia has been working in haste to prepare a bevy of inexperienced backups.
Jock Sanders is being groomed more as a wide receiver but also could get work behind Devine. Also in the mix are freshman Terence Kearns and junior Zach Hulce, who've never had a carry in a game.
``They need to feel comfortable in the backfield, because in their first year, they are going to be nervous,'' Devine said. ``Being a leader and being in their shoes last year, I'm trying to step up and help them learn.''

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