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Out of His Shell

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From 2008 through 2011, Hopewell running back Rushel Shell spent year after year establishing himself as one of the premier players in Pennsylvania.

After rushing for a state-record 9,078 yards and scoring a WPIAL-record 110 touchdowns, Shell became one of the most sought-after players by the top programs in the country.

Ultimately, he decided to stay close to home and attend the University of Pittsburgh, where he saw a good deal of snaps during his true freshman season in 2012. Backing up primary starter Ray Graham, Shell rushed for 647 yards and four touchdowns.

With Graham graduating, Shell was poised to take over the No. 1 spot.

That is, until Shell suddenly decided to leave the program in spring 2013. Eventually, Shell decided to transfer to UCLA, but that didn’t pan out either. After one of the parties—either Shell or UCLA—changed their minds, the running back attempted to engineer a reunion with Pitt. Paul Chryst, the Panthers head coach at the time, had already moved on.

Shell then considered Kentucky and West Virginia, eventually deciding on Morgantown. After redshirting to fulfill NCAA transfer requirements, Shell made a quick impact with the Mountaineers last season despite operating in a crowded backfield that also Wendell Smallwood, Dreamius Smith and Andrew Buie.

Despite sharing carries—and missing time due to an ankle injury—Shell led the team with 788 rushing yards, good enough for fifth in the Big 12.

Now heading toward the halfway point of his redshirt junior year, the WVU coaching staff is expecting big things from Shell, according to Mountaineers Sports Network play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi.

“The coaching staff was very impressed with the offseason he had,” Caridi said. “The sense is the package is now complete.”

Keenan Cummings, senior writer at wvsports.com, said the high points in Shell’s game are obvious.

“Shell gets downhill quickly and runs with purpose,” said Cummings. “At times he gets caught dancing a little too much but [he] is a physical back that can lower his shoulder and get tough yards as well as make things happen in the open field when he hits a crease. One underrated aspect of his game is Shell does have the ability to catch the football and make things happen in the passing game.”

Despite Shell’s huge talent level and the high expectations set for him, there is one concern that multiple sources point out:  consistency.

Shell got off to a slow start through the first two games of the season, carrying just 19 times for 69 yards. He had better performances in the Mountaineers next two games, rushing for a combined 149 yards and two scores in games against Maryland and Oklahoma, but Smallwood topped 100-yards in both contests while sharing carries with Shell.

In losses to Oklahoma State and Baylor, he managed just 94 yards on 34 carries -- a 2.8 per carry average.

“We think the sky is the limit for that kid,” WVU running backs coach JaJuan Seider said during the spring. “He's a pro player in my opinion. I think he's got all the tools to be a pro player. But a pro player has to do it every day.

“You can't go into a situation where you have a good day and then an okay day just because you don't want to push hard. It's got to be consistent. You've got to be Sunday to Sunday, and that's what we're trying to push out of him.”

Head coach Dana Holgorsen echoed this sentiment.

“The perception of him being a dominant force is far greater than the reality,” Holgorsen told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’ll be the first to tell him that. He’s a big, physical and determined kid, but he doesn’t play like that all the time. My job is to get him to do that.”

For his part, Shell still seems confident that he can still make that kind of season happen.

“I feel like I'm getting there. I'm almost there,” he said. “I just need to keep practicing and getting better.”

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