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Washington running back keeps eye on Pitt

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 4:33 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Washington running back Shai McKenzie gains yardage agianst Jeannette during their WPIAL Class AA Interstate Conference game at Washington High School on September 28, 2012.

When Pennsylvania prep career rushing leader Rushel Shell decided to transfer from Pitt, another WPIAL star tailback was paying close attention.

Washington's Shai McKenzie, one of the nation's most coveted prospects and Pitt's top target in the Class of 2014, called Shell's decision a “big surprise” but said the Panthers remain among his favorites.

“Him leaving is probably a disappointment to a lot of people but it could be better for me recruiting-wise and fit,” said McKenzie, who plans to visit Pitt this weekend. “They're the hometown team. I know I'm a priority, and Pitt is slim at the running back position so I know they're going to recruit me more.”

The 6-foot, 213-pound McKenzie rushed for 2,689 yards – the second-best single-season total in WPIAL history, only to Shell's 2,740 in 2009 – and 42 touchdowns last fall in leading Washington to the WPIAL Class AA final.

McKenzie recently narrowed his 31 scholarship offers to 15 schools. He said the Panthers, along with Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Tennessee, will make the next cut, too.

But McKenzie sees pros and cons in Shell's departure.

“Before he left, I was basically thinking that I could probably have a chance to split carries with him, if I went there my freshman year. Now that he's left, I probably would be the feature guy,” McKenzie said.

“It builds interest but it also makes me wonder what goes on down there, that a feature back from the WPIAL would leave the hometown school that he had his heart set on. What was behind the whole situation to make him leave quick like that?”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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