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Does Pitt have savior in Hopewell's Rushel Shell?

Pitt coach Todd Graham asked Hopewell tailback Rushel Shell for a favor when they talked a few months ago.

"He said, 'Once you come up with your decision, if you're going to come here, try to (commit) as early as possible so we can bring a lot of guys with you,' " Shell said. "I thought that was a smart idea."

Standing outside his high school Friday morning, Shell called Graham, told him they had a deal and announced his college choice to local media.

This was a marquee recruit for Pitt's first-year coach, and the expectations for Shell have been growing. Could he start as a freshman• Could he recruit highly coveted defensive end Noah Spence of Bishop McDevitt to Pitt, like he says he'll try• Could he lift Pitt into prominence?

How much difference can one recruit really make?

Shell digs into Pitt's history for his answers -- not the Dave Wannstedt years or the Walt Harris years. He goes back to when Pitt won a national championship -- about two decades before he was born. When Tony Dorsett chose Pitt, enrolling in 1973, it bolstered the football program.

"When Tony went to Pitt, he took a (recruiting) class with him," Shell said. "They built from there and won a national championship. That's what I'm trying to do. If I would have waited until February, we might not have had a chance on some of the guys."

Shell hasn't hidden from the expectations. He knows his Pitt history and can draw parallels. While Dorsett bought into what Johnny Majors' and Jackie Sherrill's new staff was promoting, Shell has embraced Graham's.

"That surprised a lot of people (for me) to come to the University of Pittsburgh," Dorsett said. "Pitt wasn't a winning program at the time. It may have helped some other guys, locally, decide. They'd say, 'He made that move; maybe I'll stay close and give my parents the opportunity to see me play.' "

Since Shell chose Pitt over traditional powers including Alabama, Florida and Ohio State, the move will be noticed by recruits nationwide, SuperPrep publisher Allen Wallace said. That's what Graham is hoping for.

"They need some notoriety now," said Wallace, who ranked Shell among the nation's top 50 recruits. "It would be a sign that the upcoming recruits have confidence in Pitt. That's what Pitt needs to establish."

Shell called Pitt a "perfect fit." Some may question whether the 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior would be a better fit with teams that employ the I-formation, like the system he runs in high school. But Shell is convinced he will fit well into Graham's spread offense.

"They have that -- what's it called• -- high-octane offense," he said. "I think it would fit me well."

As a four-year starter at Hopewell and the WPIAL's career rushing leader, Shell has shown he's more than power. He had runs of 46 and 59 yards in Friday night's nationally televised game against Central Valley. His coach, Dave Vestal, said he believed Pitt was the right fit.

"He can catch the ball out of the backfield and run the football," he said. "He'll flourish in any type of system."

Quick, strong and with good hands, Shell should fit well into a spread offense, ESPN analyst Craig James said.

"Anyone who has vision, who can cut and run and play in space and catch the football can play in that offense," he said. "If I was a young running back coming out of high school, and Todd Graham recruited me with his mind and his offense and his success rate, I would be very intrigued, and I absolutely would love to play for him."

Pitt could need a starting tailback next season if Ray Graham enters the NFL Draft. Joe Butler, a local scout for Metro Index, said Shell could fill Graham's role in time.

"Shell is the kind of guy who has the talent to come in and play right away," he said. "He has the talent to go to any school and play right away. It's a big adjustment for any young guy to go from high school to college. Some guys make the adjustment fast, and some guys run a little behind. I don't want to say he's going to come in and start, but he has enough talent to come in and be in the mix right away."

Shell said he wasn't made any playing-time promises. He has talked with Ray Graham about the offense but doesn't know whether the junior will turn pro.

Whatever his role, Shell won't go unnoticed.

"I expect to have a lot of eyes on me because it's my hometown," he said. "But I'm not worried about it."

Jerry DiPaola and Kevin Gorman contributed to this story.

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