As head coach at Hopewell High School, having the caliber of running back that Rushel Shell is means a lot for Dave Vestal. It means a lot to the Hopewell program—which has played in one WPIAL championship game and made at least two WPIAL semifinal appearances with Shell in the backfield. At the same time, when someone gets called on the way Shell does—from college coaches to reporters looking to do interviews—there's a certain amount of pressure placed on Shell, and the head coach.
Vestal takes on an additional duty of not only dealing with the increased interaction surrounding his program, but he's also responsible for guiding Shell and making sure the pressure doesn't get to him too much. In addition to guiding him through that pressure, came some general worry. Now that Shell is verbally committed to Pitt, Vestal is pleased not only with how Shell made his decision, but how he handled the whole process altogether.
"I was (impressed)," Vestal said. "Keeping track of things that came through school; different coaches, all the stuff I never see—the social networking—and stuff like that. I was worried about that, but it seems like he handled that very well. I'm just glad he took his time and made a decision he feels is the right fit for him."
In fact, when it came time for a decision to be made, Vestal stepped aside completely. He took Shell aside and advised him on what he should be watching out for. When Shell decided to make his announcement, he wanted to find out where Shell was going at the same time everyone else did.
"I didn't want to find out until (Friday morning) because I wanted to make sure it was right with him," Vestal added. "I didn't want to be the one that knew ahead of time. As things go, you just want him to think things through as an athlete and as a student."
In his time at Hopewell, Vestal has had Paul Posluszny go to Penn State, David Posluszny to Notre Dame and Ryan Turnley to Pitt—who is now starting center. Vestal said there wasn't one school he wanted Shell to go to, but in the end, couldn't be happier that he's going to Pitt.
"Just looking at what they do, and how he can catch the ball out of the backfield athletically and run the football, I think he'd flourish in any system," Vestal said. "The more times he gets the ball, the better he is. I think if you look at their offense, and the future of that (running back), that's the type of player he is.
"I just wanted to make sure that it was his decision. As I talked to him, I didn't try to sway him or say that this might be the better fit than this school. We did some pros and cons throughout the past couple of years; kind of looking at styles of offenses and where he's been. We never really said, ‘hey this place is definitely the best fit.' It was all on his shoulders, and I think he took his time because he wanted to make sure it was the right fit. I'm glad he's got closure on the situation."
Then, there's the added pressure of being a hometown hero. Aside from any prospect from the WPIAL that chooses Pitt, Shell attends the same high school that Tony Dorsett went to. In fact, he plays in a high school stadium named after Dorsett, which may place some additional expectations on him. He recognizes the kind of pressure that Shell will have to deal with. He compares it with pressure that Shell has had to face his whole career—everything from breaking in as a starter as a freshman, to replicating record-setting statistics every year.
"I think he understands it, and there's pressure," Vestal said. "I think how he responds to it, is as a team, that pressure is taken off his shoulders. There's eleven guys out there, not just him. Even though he is the focal point, even though people are trying to stop him every week, we can do it together, because everyone has to execute for him to have success. He's gotten better since his freshman year, each and every game."
Initially, Shell's decision was going to be announced during tonight's nationally-televised game with Central Valley. He was pleased for many reasons that Shell decided to move his decision up to the morning. Starting today, he and Hopewell can focus on their home stretch.
"He's focused on the game right now," Vestal added. "That's why I'm glad we got this thing out of the way."