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Pitt RB Shell is catching on with college game

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Rushel Shell celebrates with Jason Hendricks after beating Virginia Tech on Sept. 15, 2012, at Heinz Field.

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Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Football players spend as much time with their coaches as they do with their families, and it shows on Pitt freshman running back Rushel Shell.

He's starting to talk like a coach.

“If you can't practice, don't expect to play,” he said.

Shell said no one identified that axiom as a team rule last week when he was limited in practice by back spasms and carried only once against Syracuse. Yet, he's smart enough to know how coaches think.

Shell's back improved before the game and he was nearly pain-free by kickoff, but coach Paul Chryst still didn't feel comfortable using him in most situations.

“Physically, I was ready,” Shell said, “but mentally, I wasn't. You can't be mad at (anyone). You have to be there. You have to practice. Practice is the key (on) the college level.”

Chryst agreed that playing time is based on how much a player practices.

“Yeah, it is (based on) individual (situations),” he said. “What is the injury? What is the scheme? What are we asking them to do?”

In Shell's case, that's much more than what was expected of him at Hopewell High School. He's been working on improving his pass blocking, but it's been difficult.

“Now, I'm really getting the hang of it,” he said. “Everything is making sense to me. I'm understanding the calls, the reads. Every day, I have to keep practicing it because you are never perfect on it.”

Shell is expected to play Saturday against Louisville after the back gave him no problem this week.

“Hopefully, it stays that way,” Chryst said.

Shell said he had minor back pain in high school, but it got worse after arriving at Pitt. He said he doesn't know if weightlifting aggravates it, but that's been the other big change in his career.

“I never lifted weights in high school,” he said. “I guess it wasn't something I enjoyed. Now, it's like a big difference. My body is going through a lot of changes that it never went through in high school.”

Shell said weightlifting has helped his strength, speed and burst. “I see I am a lot better player than I was in high school.”

And Pitt is a lot better team with Shell complementing starting running back Ray Graham.

“We'd sure like to get him more than one carry,” Chryst said.

Note: Chryst said he will decide Saturday on tight end Hubie Graham, outside linebacker Manny Williams and cornerback K'Waun Williams, who left the Syracuse game with undisclosed injuries.

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

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