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Harris: Don't rush to judgment on Shell

| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 12:27 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Former Pitt running back Rushel Shell during spring practice on Tuesday, March 5, 2013, at UPMC indoor practice facility.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Running back Rushel Shell, a Hopewell product, made the decision to transfer from Pitt, a heady decision for a 19-year-old.

I never met former Pitt running back Rushel Shell. Never spoke with him and never interviewed him.

To be fair, all I know about Shell is what I hear and what I read. Still, it's enough to make me feel sorry for the young man. I also want to send him to his corner for a timeout.

Shell's a talented college football player in need of direction. How many other 19-year-olds can we say that about? Even those who don't play major college football and whose lives aren't lived in the spotlight?

Why did Shell leave Pitt?

He's a local kid from Hopewell turning his back on the hometown college football program for ... what?

Getting away from Western Pennsylvania? Discovering life on the West Coast?

Fame and riches?

There are plenty of Pitt running backs who, after a stint with the Panthers, have played in the NFL. Shell could have been the next one.

Some people — including contrarians like me — believe we know what's best for Shell because that is the politically correct stance to assume when someone so young makes a decision that will affect the rest of his life.

I don't profess to understand how 19-year-olds think. When I was 19, gas cost less than $1 a gallon. Coming up with enough funds to fill my 1972 Ford Maverick occupied my thoughts.

Shell's different.

Possessing rare athletic ability to potentially earn millions of dollars carrying a football helps get Shell through each day.

How many people do we know personally with that type of earning potential? That's a lot of pressure to shoulder at any age.

At 19, it's unfair to expect Shell to do “the right thing” — whatever that is.

Agree or disagree, Shell has the right to decide that leaving Pitt is best for him. And those personal feelings about Shell don't mean anything about his abilities as a player or his true nature as a person.

The Trib's Jerry DiPaola reported Sunday that Shell was “dissatisfied with how the coaching staff was handling him.”

Did Shell feel that Pitt coach Paul Chryst and his staff were too hard on him? Did Shell not like the fact that Chryst wasn't the coach who recruited him? Did the combination of those two factors contribute to Shell's wanting to transfer?

Probably. Maybe.

What difference does it make?

Shell wanted to leave, so he did.

Shell isn't the best running back in college football, but he was the best running back at Pitt. Shell used that power to his advantage for as long as he could.

It doesn't matter if local media, or Pitt fans, or even members of Pitt's coaching staff, belonged to the Rushel Shell Fan Club. He was the best running back on a 6-7 football team joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It isn't like Pitt was going to win the ACC in its first season in the conference — even with Shell. Without him, it's even less likely that will happen.

Shell leaving Pitt is no different than former Florida Gulf Coast men's basketball coach Andy Enfield leaving his players behind for a more glamorous, lucrative position at USC. Enfield is doing what he thinks is best for him and his family.

Shell is doing the same thing: He's looking out for No. 1.

Shell understands it's a buyer's market and that major college coaches will compete for his services.

Of all the schools to profess their love for Shell, Arizona State made the most sense because coach Todd Graham recruited Shell while he was at Pitt.

Like many top recruits, Shell didn't select Pitt because of the school. He picked Pitt because of the coach.

Pitt blocked a potential transfer for Shell to Arizona State because of his relationship with Graham. Pitt prevented Shell from transferring to Arizona as well because current members of that staff were also at Pitt during Shell's recruitment.

If Shell didn't have better options, he would have remained with the hometown college football team. UCLA and California are two other schools on Shell's radar.

Shell may have had his problems at Pitt, but at least he was Pitt's problem. His departure leaves a void in the program.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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