"Next year, I will be a Pitt Panther."
That's all that was said when Rushel Shell took the podium, in a less-than-dramatic press conference to announce which school he would be attending. When he started to describe what made him pick Pitt, it sounded as if Pitt was the top school all along. He took his time with his decision to weigh out the pros and cons of each school. Alabama, he says, was his other finalist.
"At first, it was a close decision," Shell said. "But, then Pitt started to pull away. I just felt that it was the best choice."
Shell said that even if Dave Wannstedt's staff was still at Pitt, he would have kept the Panthers in consideration. The only time where Pitt was out of the equation was during its coaching transition. Once Todd Graham and his staff were put in place, Shell took his time to get to know them. His hope was to develop a similar comfort level as he has with Wannstedt and running backs coach David Walker.
"It just made me take a step back and look at the new coaching staff and get a new chemistry with them," Shell said, describing his thought process during the coaching change. "They have that ‘high-octane offense.' Ray Graham is the leading rusher in the nation right now, so you can't complain about it. I think it would fit me well."
He then said at the beginning of the season, he started thinking Pitt. Seeing how Ray Graham would perform in his first few games would definitely be a factor—since he would need to see how a running back would succeed in this new offense. Graham's numbers through six games—899 yards and 9 touchdowns—further enhanced how he liked Pitt.
"Of course," Shell added. "I had to check out and see if the offense worked, and the way they played. As you can see, it works for Ray Graham. I don't see why I can't step in there, and it will work.
"Their past running backs, they're great. You can't complain about them, so why not try to be the fourth one (in a row to go to the NFL)? Why not try to come in where (Ray) Graham left off?"
Location was a small factor. Shell cited the pros and cons—something he did often with all the schools that offered him—in the benefits of playing for the hometown team. It's nice to be close, but he understands the raised expectation by a local prospect choosing Pitt.
"It's a big pro in the situation. Who wouldn't want their family and friend to drive 45 minutes to come watch them play. I guess it's a big bonus. I'm not really worried about (expectations). I expect to have a lot of eyes on me; going there. It's the home town and I'm only 45 minutes away. As of right now, I'm not really worried about it. I just take it day-by-day."
One of the other things Shell talked about in making his decision, was his hope that other players would join him in this recruiting class.
"I'm hoping by me committing, I'm bringing a couple more commitments with me," Shell said. "I don't see why not. Try to do it like Tony Dorsett did; bring everyone with him, and from there go to the National Championship."
He's built a friendship with a few other current Pitt commits, but is also friends with a few other prospects who are uncommitted. Some of the ones he knows comes from his youth football days, or even AAU basketball where he was a good friend of Dakota Conwell.
"I actually knew him since we were little kids," Shell said. "We played on the same AAU team together until we were in tenth grade. I know him pretty well. I know Marzett Geter. I played him when we were younger."
"I know Chad. I talk to Chad on Facebook. We just talk about football, how's football in Tennessee, basically. He's good. I think he's going to do real good in the offense too. There's two real good pulls in your backfield with the quarterback and the running back. I think it should be pretty well."
As for his wish list now that he's a Panther, it's a pretty extensive one of prospects he'd like to see join him.
"I'm trying to get Noah Spence from Bishop McDevitt," Shell said. "I think he's no. 5 or No. 6 ranked (defensive end in the country. "He's right there. I talked to him a couple times, and he said he's going to try and make a visit there; check it out. I would like (Deaysean) Rippy, (Demetrious) Cox from Jeannette and my fellow rival who I'm going to play against today, (Robert) Foster. I'm going to try to get him to come."
Shell even said he wouldn't mind seeing another running back join him in this class. He doesn't seem to hear anyone taking his job, or having to share carries with another back.
"Greg Garmon," Shell said, of the running back he'd like to have. "You can't just have one running back. You have to have a variety of running backs."
As Shell mentioned, his Hopewell Vikings will battle Robert Foster and the Central Valley Warriors tonight at 6 pm in a nationally-televised game. Shell enters the game with 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns, with three regular season games to play. The Vikings need a win tonight to remain in the hunt for a playoff berth in the WPIAL's AAA Parkway Conference.