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For Pitt football team, life goes on without RB Shell

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 11:27 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Isaac Bennett eludes Nicholas Grigsby (3) and Andrew Taglianetti during the Blue-Gold spring game Saturday April 14, 2012, at Martorelli Stadium in Ross.

Pitt coach Paul Chryst entered into several serious conversations in recent days with — and about — former running back Rushel Shell.

But after Shell signed his transfer papers and left the team Tuesday, Chryst may have another group to address. He must convince his players that life goes on, even without the team's best running back.

“I do wish him all the best, but the focus is on this team,” Chryst said after the 11th of 15 scheduled spring practices. “I get it (the angst about Shell's departure), the focus of it. But they are into this thing, and I appreciate that a ton. One thing this is and is becoming is a tighter group.”

Shell met with Chryst on Monday and Tuesday to finalize his plans to leave the team that he once tried to keep together.

Shell's decision — based partially on coaches' criticisms of Shell — reached a critical stage March 22 when he was hurt and pulled himself from practice.

What was left to discuss Tuesday morning was Shell's future. Pitt will block Shell from transferring to an ACC school — meaning he wouldn't be eligible for a scholarship there until 2014 — but his most likely landing spots appear to be Pac-12 members UCLA, California or Arizona State.

He is eligible for a scholarship immediately at any school outside the ACC — Pitt begins play in the conference next season — but if he goes to another FBS institution, he must sit out 2013. If he decides to use junior college as a bridge to a bigger school, he must earn a degree there before transferring again, an NCAA spokesman said.

Joe Butler of Metro Index Scouting Service said Shell has a future in college football.

“Potentially, he is a nice, strong, inside runner who has some breakaway speed and gives you good power,” said Butler, who has evaluated high school and college players for 37 years.

Butler said losing Shell may hurt Pitt more in the short term than beyond the 2013 season.

“I really don't think it will have that much of an effect on the way (recruits) look at things,” he said. “Shell leaving is significant for Pitt's program because he was going to be a starter for three more years. But guys will fill in. Isaac Bennett is a good fill-in.

“Other good running backs may say, ‘Maybe I'll go to Pitt now, now that I know I will be able to start.' ”

Chryst said he is encouraged with how Bennett, a junior, and Malcolm Crockett, a redshirt sophomore currently out with a leg injury, have approached the situation.

“It's a group that is committed,” Chryst said. “They come with a purpose and willingness to get better.”

Injuries to Crockett and redshirt freshman Demitrious Davis left Pitt with one scholarship running back at practice Tuesday, but Chryst said the team will have enough players at that position, especially when freshman James Conner of Erie McDowell enrolls this summer.

“Numbers-wise, we will be similar to what we had last year as far as guys who can truly contribute,” he said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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