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Hopewell running back Shell nears run mark

Since he started wearing horns on his helmet, Rushel Shell has had a bull's-eye on his back.

Yet the Hopewell senior is on the verge of breaking a WPIAL record that was set when he was in kindergarten.

Shell needs 135 yards tonight against Mt. Lebanon to eclipse the WPIAL career rushing record of 7,646 yards, set by Fort Cherry's Mike Vernillo in 1999. Based on his career averages, it's a good bet Shell will break the mark.

The 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back has had 32 consecutive games with 100 or more yards, which is seven games shy of breaking the national record set by Billy Sims of Hooks, Texas, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma in 1978 and was the top pick in the '80 NFL Draft. Shell, who said he has narrowed his college choice to Alabama, Pitt and Oregon, is averaging 226.8 yards a game during that streak, with 18 200-yard games and five 300-yard games, including 366 yards against Moon last Friday.

"He always seems to do something that amazes you in the course of a game," Hopewell coach Dave Vestal said. "He's a very mature player. He's got size, but he's got speed. He's got the ability to run between the tackles and get those physical yards, but he also has the ability to get a step on the edge and then accelerate and take it the distance. He can hit a home run any time.

"That's why I think, as a coach, you've got to ride that horse. People know he's getting the ball. That's no secret. He still seems to get his yards."

What's more, Shell rushed for 138 yards on 24 carries in a 28-20 loss at Mt. Lebanon last season, when the Class AAAA Blue Devils went undefeated. The only other team to hold Shell to fewer than 140 yards in the past 32 games is Blackhawk: he had 130 last season and 133 in 2009.

Regardless of whether he breaks the WPIAL record, Shell will be honored tonight at Hopewell's Tony Dorsett Stadium. Before the game, he will be presented his game jersey for the inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl on Jan. 3 in Phoenix by members of the U.S. Marine Corps.

"(The Marines) coming when I hopefully break the record will be a great night, a great experience," said Shell, who said he's "not too worried about" the WPIAL record but is focused on returning to the WPIAL Class AAA final.

For now, Shell has his eye on an attainable target: surpassing someone whose name has been mentioned in the same sentence since Shell's sophomore season. Vernillo believes Shell is in his own stratosphere.

"For me to even be in the conversation with that kid is awesome for me," said Vernillo, who played at West Virginia and Slippery Rock. "I'm humbled. Every single Monday at my office, I get an update on the kid. Quit talking about me. It's all about him."

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