MORGANTOWN -- When Athletic Director Ed Pastilong introduced Rich Rodriguez as the new head football coach 11 months ago, there were those who believed Avon Cobourne's chances of breaking Amos Zereoue's all-time rushing mark at WVU were gone.
Rodriguez, renowned for developing the no-huddle spread offense with its four wide receivers, tried to explain that there was indeed room for a 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield.
But not too many people were listening.
Cobourne did, and now it's paying off.
Saturday against Rutgers, the diminutive junior running back passed the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive season.
He's now rushed for 1,023 yards this season and 3,180 for his career. Zereoue rushed for 4,086 yards in three seasons, bypassing his senior year for the NFL Draft.
It's unlikely Cobourne will do the same. Although is production is similar, he's not as highly regarded as Zereoue was by NFL scouts at this point in their respective careers.
Barring injury, at his current pace, Cobourne will likely pass Zereoue during the middle of next season.
When Rodriguez spelled out what he expected from the one-back that stands next to the quarterback in the backfield, Cobourne took it all to heart.
He worked harder in the weightroom and became stronger.
He worked harder on pass blocking and receiving in spring drills, becoming legitimately good at both in the process.
He envisioned himself becoming a better runner and he has. He uses his blocking better.
He's become more physical and hits the hole much quicker than he did the previous two seasons.
What's more, he's become a leader to his teammates by example and has garnered the respect of everyone on the team.
And he's done this competing at the position that Rodriguez has said time after time is the deepest, most talented on the team.
Cobourne has every attribute of a "great" back save one -- pure, breakaway, take-it-to-the-house speed. He's never quite recovered the same speed he had in high school because of a knee injury that cut short his senior season.
But if there's a way Cobourne can pick up a step or two, you can be assured he'll figure it out and work like crazy to acquire it.
You see, hard work is what Avon Cobourne is all about. It's an asset all of us should have.
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org