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Shell stays home, picks Pitt

Chris Harlan
| Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011

The last time Pitt landed a star tailback from Hopewell, things turned out pretty well for the Panthers.

Now, they have another.

Hopewell senior Rushel Shell committed to Pitt on Friday morning, giving the Panthers one of the top running back recruits in the nation. His other finalist was SEC power Alabama, although he never visited Tuscaloosa.

"(Alabama) had a good shot in the beginning, but then I thought about it a lot and thought, 'What would fit me best?' " Shell said. "I thought Pitt was the perfect fit."

By choosing Pitt, Shell follows the path taken in 1973 by Tony Dorsett, another Hopewell graduate. Dorsett led Pitt to a national championship in 1976 and won the Heisman Trophy.

The success of Pitt tailbacks LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and Ray Graham also excited Shell, he said. McCoy and Lewis are with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, and Graham leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing yards.

"Their past three running backs have been great," Shell said. "So, why not try to be the fourth?"

Shell's decision gives Pitt coach Todd Graham a marquee recruit, and he joins a 2012 class that already had four-star quarterback Chad Voytik of Cleveland, Tenn. Shell hopes his commitment will draw others to Pitt, and he said he plans to actively pursue players.

"I'll try to do like Tony Dorsett did -- bring everyone with him," he said, "and from there go to a national championship."

Shell announced his college choice during an 8 a.m. news conference at his high school. His family was there, including his mother, Toni Zuccaro, who called the moment "overwhelming."

"He had asthma really bad as a child, and I never thought he would excel (at athletics)," she said. "We are blessed."

Shell called Todd Graham just minutes before announcing his decision.

"He was excited," Shell said.

Several recruiting websites rank Shell among the top five running backs in the nation. calls him a five-star talent and ranks him No. 20 nationally. gives him four stars and ranks him No. 45.

"He's got the exponents you're looking for," said SuperPrep publisher Allen Wallace, who ranks Shell third among running backs. "You ask recruiting coordinators what they like about running backs, and they say size, speed, vision, balance. I add to that someone who's durable, can play hurt, (who's) competitive. It looks like he's got those ingredients."

Shell set the WPIAL career rushing record this season. A four-year starter, he has 8,091 career yards after rushing for 264 against Central Valley on Friday. His commitment is non-binding until Feb. 1, when National Letters of Intent can be signed.

In mid-August, Shell hinted that he was going to choose Pitt when he told the Tribune-Review he had made his college decision, noting that the school was "an average team on the rise." For two months, he left Pitt supporters hoping he meant their Panthers.

Yesterday, he made it official.

"Every day I'd get (asked): 'Are you going to Pitt?' " he said with a laugh. "I'd just smile."

With Shell in the fold, Pitt has eight Class of 2012 recruits from the WPIAL or City League, including Fox Chapel lineman Adam Bisnowaty, Clairton receiver Trenton Coles, Upper St. Clair linebacker Dakota Conwell, Sto-Rox cornerback Marzett Geter, Allderdice lineman Tyrique Jarrett and Penn Hills receiver Corey Jones. Former Woodland Hills safety Jevonte Pitts, who is enrolled at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., also remains committed to Pitt.

Additional Information:

Tops in rushing

Hopewell senior Rushel Shell surpassed 8,000 career yards Friday night and remained sixth on the PIAA's all-time career rushing list.

Yards -- Player, School -- Years

9,027 -- Jeremiah Young, Steelton-Highspire -- 2004-07

8,432 -- James Mungro, East Stroudsburg South -- 1993-96

8,325 -- Zach Barket, Schuylkill Haven -- 2005-08

8,324 -- Ryan Brumfield, Owen J. Roberts -- 2007-10

8,091 -- Rushel Shell, Hopewell -- 2008-11

7,749 -- Terrin Ash, Honesdale -- 1991-94

7,646 -- Mike Vernillo, Fort Cherry -- 1996-99

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