True freshman running back Rushel Shell was a catalyst for Pittsburgh getting up off the carpet and looking like a football team ready to contend for a Big East championship this season. Shell rushed for 157 yards on 23 carries and added 15 receiving yards on two catches in the Panthers’ 35-17 upset win over then-No. 13 Virginia Tech at Heinz Field.
Rushel Shell is 247Sports National True Freshman of the Week.
For his efforts, which were even more impressive considering 82 of those yards came in the fourth quarter as Pitt put the Hokies out of reach, Shell is 247Sports National True Freshman of the Week.
Much like Pitt’s season, which saw the Panthers go down at home to FCS Youngstown State, 31-17, in the first game of the Paul Chryst era, and subsequently take a 34-10 loss at Cincinnati in the second game of the season on a Thursday night on the road, Shell’s career did not get off to a spectacular start. The 6-foot, 215-pounder was suspended for the game with the Penguins and then did not appear effective in the loss to the Bearcats, rushing for 31 yards on eight carries.
But against the Hokies, the Aliquippa (Pa.) Hopewell product looked like the back the entire country and especially football fans in the Pittsburgh area were high on coming out of high school.
Shell hails from the high school alma mater of former Pitt and NFL great Tony Dorsett (the stadium at Hopewell is named after Dorsett) and set all sorts of records as a high school senior, including the state of Pennsylvania’s career rushing mark (9,078 yards), a Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League career record for touchdowns (110) and he broke former Oklahoma great Billy Sims‘ national high school record of consecutive 100-yard rushing performances with 39.
Pitt is no stranger to producing great running backs. In fact, current starter Ray Graham (who had 94 yards rushing and two touchdowns himself) is outstanding. Dion Lewis, LeSean McCoy (in recent years) and guys like Curtis Martin, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward and of course Dorsett, all played for the Panthers. A handful of showings like the one Saturday and Shell is well on his way to being the next one.
Shell was rated as the No. 3 prospect at his position nationally and a five-star prospect by the 247Composite in the Class of 2012. 247Sports rated him as the No. 7 running back and No. 60 player overall.
During the recruiting process, he wasn’t met with as much hype as other prospects as it seemed for some time like he would stay close to home and go to Pitt. Alabama and a number of other programs that recruit nationally had him rated as one of the top backs on their board. Saturday, he showed why, routinely running over, around and through a normally fundamentally-sound Virginia Tech squad.
Shell’s first two carries of a triumphant game-clinching, fourth quarter touchdown drive (15 plays, 88 yards, 7:44) went for 42 yards. The young back was not surprised that he got better as the game went on. “I play my best toward the end of a game because I have everything figured out,” Shell said following the game.
By the third game of his college career, he seems to have figured out how to perform in a game where his team needs him.