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Pitt freshman running back Shell returns to practice, ready to go

| Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt running back Rushel Shell and Ray Graham watch during practice on the South Side. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Pitt freshman running back Rushel Shell was excited Monday to chat about his three favorite subjects — football and six-month-old daughters Arionna and Amiyah.

“They can crawl,” he said, his eyes lighting up.

Shell can relate to his twins learning to crawl before they can walk. Dad is going through the same process.

After setting a Pennsylvania record with 9,078 yards in four seasons at Hopewell, Shell spent the first few practices of his college career adjusting to the increased speed and size of the players on the other side of the ball. He struggled initially, and then he missed three days last week while dealing with a troublesome back.

“One day, I just took a wrong cut and everything started hurting,” he said.

Monday, he returned in full pads, aware that playing time at running back might be scarce for those who can't practice.

“At first, I was lost trying to figure out what was going on,” he said. “Now, I'm starting to get the speeds down, when I should make the right cuts.

“I am getting a little accustomed to it. I still got (a long way) to go.”

Shell, 2½ weeks short of his 19th birthday, has stepped into a crowded Pitt backfield, with senior Ray Graham, sophomores Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis and redshirt freshman Malcolm Crockett.

“They make you compete harder because you know if you're not out there, they'll be out there working just as hard, or even harder, than you,” Shell said. “They could take your spot.

“I needed to get back. I decided to work hard to get myself better and get back on the field.”

With five running backs and one football, Shell is realizing there will be limited opportunities, especially with Bennett having an outstanding camp. Even if Graham, one of the nation's top runners last season before injuring his knee, can't start the season, Shell still must fight for playing time.

He doesn't want to redshirt, but he understands the benefits of it.

“At first I didn't want to,” he said. “I just wanted to get out here and play. But when I sat down and talked to some of my teammates, I realized it's a big process.

“If I got redshirted, it would be an extra year to get better, to get more accustomed to the speed and get all the plays down. I wouldn't be mad, but I am still trying to compete and get out there now.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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