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Mountaineers RB Slaton hopes to be first-round pick

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Running back Steve Slaton knows
he'll be playing at least one more game for West Virginia. His
decision about whether to return for his senior season won't come
until after the Fiesta Bowl.

Slaton, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last
season, said Sunday he would like to be a first-round NFL draft
pick but doesn't know yet where he stands in the eyes of
professional scouts.

"That's the biggest thing is where I would be. After that, I
haven't really sat down and thought about it," Slaton said. "I
still have time after this game to think about it. I just want to
focus on this game. I don't want to have any bad feelings that I
spent too much time worrying about something else instead of
worrying about this game."

Slaton's numbers have dropped off this season, in part because
of the addition of freshman Noel Devine to the Mountaineers'
already dynamic backfield. But anyone who has watched West Virginia
this season can see Slaton hasn't been quite as elusive or
explosive.

After setting West Virginia's school record with 1,733 yards
rushing last season, Slaton has run for 1,053 yards this season to
surpass 1,000 yards for the third straight time. He already has
matched his career-high with 17 touchdowns this season, and would
need two more to tie the school record set by Ira Errett Rodgers in
1919. He already holds the career mark with 50 TDs.

"I think it's been a good season for me," Slaton said. "I
think I've shown more versatility this year. I think I've shown a
lot of character for me to have the years I've had and then have
this year, showing that I'm a winner. I like winning."

Slaton said he thought he had displayed strong character "by
having less carries and not complaining about it." He would need
38 carries against Oklahoma (No. 4 BCS, No. 3 AP) (11-2) to reach the same 13-game
total (248) as last season.

It was most difficult for Slaton to accept the lighter load in
West Virginia's 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh that knocked the
Mountaineers (10-2) out of the national title picture. Slaton had
only nine carries for 11 yards in that loss, when quarterback
Patrick White missed much of the game with a thumb injury.

"Having less carries and losing, you think there's something
else you could have done," Slaton said.

Slaton said he's OK with getting less carries as long as the
wins keep coming.

"That's what makes it better, if you're winning," Slaton said.
"This is a team game. It can't be all about me, so I definitely
have to be a team player."

White, who intends to return for his senior season, said he was
going to leave Slaton's decision to his teammate. He said he had
been impressed by Slaton's commitment to the team.

"He hasn't complained one time to me. I'm pretty sure he wants
the ball more, but I haven't heard him complain," White said.
"He's been a team player. He's even asking coach if he can block
in practice. That says a lot about him as a player and as a
person."