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WVU RB Shell aims to finish strong by going back to power running style

| Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, 5:54 p.m.
West Virginia's Rushel Shell looks for an opening during the Gold-Blue game Saturday, April 23, 2016, at The Greenbrier Resort.
Dale Sparks | All-Pro Photography
West Virginia's Rushel Shell looks for an opening during the Gold-Blue game Saturday, April 23, 2016, at The Greenbrier Resort.
West Virginia senior running back Rushel Shell rushed for 708 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
West Virginia senior running back Rushel Shell rushed for 708 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — At Hopewell, Rushel Shell was a force of nature, a battering ram that smashed through opposing defenses en route to becoming Pennsylvania's all-time leading rusher.

His college career hasn't quite followed the same template. Shell ditched Pitt for rival West Virginia after one season, and while he has shown flashes over the past few years, he never has been a star.

But Shell finally will have the chance to be the man in 2016, and West Virginia is expecting big things out of the senior — if he can block out negative voices around him and revert to the dominant mindset he had at Hopewell.

“The biggest thing that I had to tell him was you have to get over perception and what people think of you and what you should do,” running back coach JaJuan Seider said. “It's about getting out there and doing what you can do. Stop worrying about, ‘I have to hit the hole this way because that's what they said.' Stop that. Just play ball. Go do what you did in high school.”

Shell ran for a team-high 823 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014 but last year was benched on occasion as junior Wendell Smallwood emerged as the Big 12's leading rusher.

Shell's workload and production went down across the board, even as West Virginia ran the ball more than ever in the Dana Holgorsen era. And while Smallwood is a Philadelphia Eagle, Shell remains surrounded by talent.

Coaches have raved about explosive junior college transfer Justin Crawford and comfortable-beyond-his-years freshman Kennedy McKoy. Seider has hinted that, despite Shell's experience, the carries will be divided up by committee.

If Shell doesn't produce, West Virginia has options. He won't get the majority of the playing time just because he is a senior. Seider is looking for the version of Shell that stepped onto the field in gold and blue two years ago: the strong and motivated power back who will pound the defense for chunks of hard yardage.

“We need the guy who played against Alabama and Oklahoma,” Seider said. “We need the guy who says, ‘I'm going to run right at you, and you need to stop me.' That's what I tell him. I don't need him to break 80-yard runs all the time. I need him to go give me that 10, 15 yards.

“If you give me what Wendell gave me, that 10 yards at a time, I'll be happy. I think we have some other guys who can break the long runs, so just be that guy. And in the end, you can have those 200-, 300-yard games if you continue to do those things.”

Shell and Seider have made it no secret that the senior's goal is to play in the NFL, something that Smallwood and Charles Sims before him achieved. The best way to make that ha�ppen is to focus on one final year at West Virginia and reach for a milestone he hasn't touched in college.

“It's that 1,000-yard mark,” Shell said. “I just haven't broke it yet in my college career. That starts with big plays, runs over 10 yards, stuff like that. I don't worry too much about it because that's when you get, like, a 300-yard season.”

David Statman is a freelance writer.

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