Pitt will not allow running back Shell to return
Pitt coach Paul Chryst did not spend much time — if any — deliberating over running back Rushel Shell's desire to return to the Panthers football team.
The answer is no.
Less than a day after it was revealed that Shell had reached out to Pitt officials about a possible return, a source close to the situation said the former Hopewell running back won't be welcomed back to the program.
Chryst had no comment Monday, but his decisive action in resolving the Shell question indicates that he is serious about cleaning up a program that has been plagued by instability the past two seasons. When Shell said three months ago he was transferring, Pitt made purposeful plans to move on without him.
Shell's change of heart won't alter those plans.
Shell, who was No. 1 on Pitt's running back depth chart earlier this year, walked away from the program two weeks into spring drills after a series of disagreements with the coaching staff.
Chryst allowed Shell to take a leave from the team while he considered his future, but he never returned — even while Pitt held nine additional practice sessions.
At the time, Shell said he wanted to transfer to UCLA where he would have been forced to sit out one season, according to NCAA rules.
Pitt officials blocked Shell from transferring to Arizona and Arizona State because of the presence of former Panthers coaches at those universities.
He also was banned from going to an ACC school where he could have competed against his former team.
Shell settled on UCLA, but he changed his mind in the ensuing weeks and wanted to remain close to his 16-month-old twin daughters, Arionna and Amiyah, according to a story Sunday in the Los Angeles Times. Neither UCLA officials nor coach Jim Mora Jr. commented on Shell's desire to attend school there, and he never enrolled.
Shell, who set a Pennsylvania high school record with 9,078 rushing yards at Hopewell from 2008-2011, played a significant role in the Pitt offense during his freshman season in 2012 and appeared to have a promising future.
He rushed for 641 yards and four touchdowns as the top backup to senior Ray Graham. Also, he had started to overcome the challenges of pass-blocking that surfaced early in camp, and he appeared poised to become the total running back Chryst seeks for his ground game.
His collegiate career didn't start well, but he recovered quickly.
Shell was suspended for the opener against Youngstown State for violation of team rules, but he came back and rushed for 157 yards on 28 carries against Virginia Tech in the third week of the season.
That was his best game of the 12 he played, but he also gained 96 yards against Louisville and 79 in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Ole Miss — his first and only collegiate start when Graham was injured.
Pitt will enter training camp in six weeks with four scholarship running backs — junior Isaac Bennett, redshirt sophomore Malcolm Crockett, incoming freshman James Conner and former walk-on Desmond Brown, a senior who was awarded a scholarship after Shell's departure.
Bennett, who started two games as a freshman but was phased out of the offense by Shell last year, is expected to enter camp No. 1 on the depth chart.
Shell's next move is unclear. He did not return telephone calls to the Tribune-Review.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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