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Pitt's Shell uses his family as motivation to succeed

| Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, 6:20 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Rushel Shell runs over Virginia Tech's Michael Cole during the fourth quarter Sept. 15, 2012, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Rushel Shell celebrates with Jason Hendricks after beating Virginia Tech on Sept. 15, 2012, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt running back Rushel Shell runs over Virginia Tech's Detrick Bonner during the third quarter Sept. 15, 2012, at Heinz Field.

Motivation comes in many forms.

For Pitt's Rushel Shell, it goes beyond an athlete's typical drive to succeed, has little relevance to the suspension that caused him to miss the first game of the season and has no bearing to living up to the massive hype he generated as the state's most celebrated high school running back, perhaps ever.

What motivates Shell the most hits much closer to home.

“I have two daughters. I've got to support 'em. I'm running for my life out there,” the first-year freshman said after his 23-carry, 157-yard demolition of 13th-ranked Virginia Tech in Pitt's 35-17 upset victory Saturday at Heinz Field.

Shell's twin daughters, Arionna and Amiyah, are 6 months old, a little young to be following college football. But one day, they will hear all about their dad, playing in his second college game and barely out of Hopewell High School, ran around, through and frequently over what is traditionally a stout, top-flight defense.

“Rushel, he don't play like a freshman,” said senior Ray Graham, who split the running duties with Shell.

“This was definitely a big confidence-booster,” Shell said.

“It shows me I can excel at this level. I just got to keep working hard and not really take this to my head and not think, ‘Oh yeah, I did this and I did that.' It's ‘What am I gonna do next?' ”

Shell's Pitt career was delayed a week when he and five teammates were suspended by coach Paul Chryst for unspecified infractions just before the Panthers' opening-night loss to FCS-school Youngstown State two weeks ago.

Whatever prompted the discipline, Shell, who ran for just 34 yards in last week's loss to Cincinnati, said he got the message and learned a few things.

“I learned I'm young, made a mistake, don't let the mistake happen again,” he said. “Every day improve and don't let the negativity bring you down.”

Listed at 6-foot, 215 pounds, Shell does not have blazing speed but is fast enough, as football people like to say. He showed that against Virginia Tech, but the Hokies are more likely to recall Shell's nasty, physical side and how he bowled over and swatted aside would-be tacklers like they were practice dummies.

“You've got to deliver the blow so they don't come up and hit you,” he said.

With 16 carries for 103 yards in the second half, Shell seemed to get stronger as he and Graham helped Pitt protect its lead and its quarterback, Tino Sunseri, who suffered a fourth-quarter leg injury but remained in the game.

“I feel like that's how I always play, even in high school,” said Shell, who chose Pitt over Alabama and several other high-profile programs. “I might come out slow in the beginning, but the end is when I play at my best. That's when I guess I figure everything out and just go.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bcohn@tribweb.com or 412-320-7810.

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