WVU's Shell Looking For Breakout Season

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There haven’t been many questions around Rushel Shell’s entire career. He was always the best, on his team, in his area, in his state. But now, entering his second season at West Virginia, Shell is facing his first season with even the slightest of question marks.

Shell rushed for 788 yards and seven scores, a solid piece of work no matter how one slices it, especially for a sophomore back. The total topped all WVU rushers, and was good for fifth in the Big 12, sixth in yards per game and seventh in touchdowns. But for the Hopewell, Pa. native, it was considered downright workmanlike, or pedestrian. The numbers don’t jump off the page, not the way Shell’s pedigree did as the leading all-time rusher in the WPIAL and the entire Keystone State.

The stats largely mirrored what he did as a freshman at Pitt, when he ran for 641 yards on 141 carries for the exact same 4.5 yards per rush average. Still, Shell missed most of WVU’s game with Baylor last year after an early foot injury, and didn’t play at all against Oklahoma State, two Mountaineer wins. Shell has noted that he never truly felt 100 percent after the Baylor game, and his per game totals show some of that, with such tallies as 37, 22, and 27 yards versus TCU, Texas and Texas A&M, respectively. Shell did put up 150 yards at Iowa State while registering his only touchdown over the last six games of the season. But, though listed as the starter, one gets the impression there’s a bit to prove for the back.

“I feel great going into this camp,” Shell said. “I just feel the best I have ever felt in my life, speed, conditioning and strength wise. I feel it’s going to help me this year, help me show who I really am on the football field. I feel like I am back in high school. It’s on my, mostly, but strength coach Mike Joseph wants the best for me. Every day he drives me in the craziest ways. He wants to see if I can push through it. He’s pushing me to limits I never though existed. Everything I am going to do this year is because of him.”

Shell has also gained some needed rest for a frame that churns out massive yardage while also taking some jarring hits for the extra foot. Shell will never be a back that avoids contact, and at the Big 12 level, that might mean some taxing times on the body, especially as the Mountaineers navigate arguably the toughest October schedule in the nation in road games at Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU around a lone home meeting with Oklahoma State. The three road foes are expected to be ranked in the preseason Top 20.

Shell called the Mountaineer backfield of himself, Wendell Smallwood, Donte Thomas-Williams and, of now, Jacky Marcellus, a “four-headed monster.” But he might as well have been talking about that October slate, one which West Virginia will most need him to stay unscathed, especially as the Mountaineers test their mettle at Baylor and probable league favorite TCU to close.

“We push each other every day, Shell said of the backs, “because we know that if one of us is slacking off, the one that’s right behind us will do what he needs to do to play. So we try to bring our best. I want to takeover and be the motor of the offense. I feel as if we have enough talent in the room that everyone should have a big part in what we do, and whenever one of us goes out we shouldn’t miss a beat.”

Holgorsen agreed during his summer press conference on Thursday, noting that the entire team, now with 42 upperclassmen with seasons of experience and offseason conditioning, seems significantly more mature and ready for the rigors of Big 12 play – something that was missing over the first few seasons of transition from the Big East.

“I know what they look like in the meeting rooms, I know what they look like in the weight room,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve been out with them on the field doing some agility stuff, running sprints; but nothing that has involved actual, real football so I’m not going to have any answers for you. It’s been good. I really do feel like we’re by far and away, as advanced and as ahead from any of the previous teams that I’ve had here. Our team’s in a good place.

“I can’t say enough about what (director of strength & conditioning) Mike Joseph has done. He and his staff, Kevin McCadam, Darl Bauer, Chad Snodgrass and Andre Wadley, I think they’re best in the business. It goes far beyond just strength and numbers. Bench press numbers, squat numbers… these guys are motivators, they’re counselors, they’re friends, they show they care. They spend a lot of times with these guys and they have really done a great job with this group and we do look good. We’re confident and our bodies look good. They’re bodies look better than I’ve seen in quite some time.”

Shell included, who looks a bit more trim, and significantly happier, than he was towards the end of last season. There’s a certain bounce to his demeanor, and according to coaches his step, that could pay significant dividends over the year if he can remain healthy.

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Shell said. “I am real trustworthy of the people around me, especially the coaches and the offensive line. I have a really good bond with them, and I feel as if this is my year.”

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