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Pitt RB Shell tries to master the little things

| Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, 8:48 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt football coach Paul Chryst excused Rushel Shell from spring practice indefinitely Thursday, March 28, 2013, and issued a statement in which he vowed to be “sensitive and respectful” while the running back considers transferring.

The way Pitt freshman running back Rushel Shell looks at life, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing fast.

No one ran faster — or, at least, with more elusiveness — than Shell during the past four WPIAL seasons at Hopewell. He rushed for a Pennsylvania-record 9,078 yards, averaging 8.2 per carry, set a WPIAL standard with 110 touchdowns and a national mark with 39 consecutive 100-yard games.

Those numbers are impressive, but they won't be worth much when it's time for Shell to hit the right hole before it closes — faster than it ever did in high school.

Then, he'll need to rely on something else he is hoping to develop this summer at Pitt's training camp: Knowledge of the collegiate game.

It's something Shell can't wait to master, but he understands it will take time.

“I'm trying my best to get it all done so fast,” he said. “Everybody here is a great athlete.”

Right now, Shell is running with the backups while Ray Graham and Isaac Bennett get most of the work.

“Those guys have a great knowledge of the game, and I'm trying to get my knowledge up to their level,” Shell said. “I'm trying to get better at the small things that take you from being good to being great.”

During non-contact drills, Shell has caught the eye of running backs coach Desmond Robinson, a former Pitt linebacker who played on the 1976 national championship team with another Hopewell grad, Tony Dorsett. Robinson is understandably reluctant to make the inevitable comparison.

“I don't know if it's the same kind of player,” Robinson said. “I just know they are from the same (school) right now.”

After practice Tuesday, Robinson was asked to forget Shell's past and judge the freshman back just on what he has shown in the first two days.

“I would be very impressed,” Robinson said, “because he understood the offense just in the short period of time we've given it to him, better than I expected.

“I would have been impressed no matter what kid it was. The other thing is he has the great work ethic and also he has the skills.”

Sounds like the entire package, but Robinson will wait before nominating Shell for All-American.

“He needs to just learn the full system, and we have to see how it looks like in pads,” he said. “We all look real good in shorts, the whole team we look better in shorts than we do in pads sometimes.”

Those days of reckoning are coming, with the team donning shells today and full pads Friday before scrimmaging Saturday.

Then, coaches will have a better idea of Shell's development after his mostly dominant efforts as a four-year starter at Hopewell.

In high school, Shell was usually faster than most players on the other side of the ball. Productivity came easier than he will find it in the Big East and, especially, next year in the ACC.

“Everything is a lot quicker,” he said. “You can't think now. You have to just do it.”

Pitt's coaching staff, which can spend more time with Shell than the staff at Hopewell, demands precision from its running backs and smart, quick decisions after taking the handoff.

“There are a lot more terms you have to understand and reads and scans,” Shell said. “A lot different than in high school. In high school, you just somewhat go this way or go that way.”

Coach Paul Chryst hopes to ease Shell into his first year by not shoveling too much pressure on his shoulders. But senior Ray Graham is recovering from knee surgery, and Pitt will rely on its depth at the position that includes Shell, last year's starter Bennett and sophomores Malcolm Crockett and Corey Davis.

Shell enters Pitt with a strong resumé, but he is yet to celebrate his 19th birthday.

“I'm not going to say it's 100 percent natural,” he said. “There are little things I have to iron out and figure out.

“I'm pretty sure I'll be all right.”

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

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