The Steelers signing WVU football’s Rushel Shell might not be the biggest story from the NFL Draft – it might not even be the biggest story from the running back position – but it is one worth telling.
Rushel Shell played three seasons in Morgantown, where he totaled 2,010 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. He added 49 catches for 341 yards in the passing game. Before donning the old gold & blue though, Shell opted to play football closer to home.
After graduating from Hopewell (Pa.), Shell took his talents to Pitt and became a Panther. As a true freshman, he ran for 641 yards and four touchdowns as the No. 2 back. Had Shell not transferred, he would’ve been the workhorse for the Panthers he following season.
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If you notice anything about his combined numbers from Pitt and WVU, it’s the consistency. This attribute even predates Shell’s college football days.
Shell finished his high school career as the most prolific rusher in Pennsylvania state history, amassing 9,078 yards. He eclipsed Oklahoma running back Billy Sims’ record of 38-consecutive games with 100 or more rush yards, and Shell’s 110 career touchdowns are a record in the WPIAL; players like LaVar Arrington, Tony Dorsett, Ty Law, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Joe Namath and Jason Taylor all played in the WPIAL. This seems like the epicenter of football after reading those names.
Both the local and national media recognized Shell for his efforts throughout high school, including being named:
- Four-time Pennsylvania Sports Writers All-State selection
- Pennsylvania Sports Writers Player of the Year
- Two-time Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Player of the Year
- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Player of the Year
- ESPNHS All-American
- Sports Illustrated All-American
These accolades and production brought all sorts of hype and attention to the future Mountaineer, including scholarship offers from all the top-tier programs in college football: Alabama, Florida and Florida State, LSU, Ohio State, Oregon, Tennessee UCLA and WVU, among others. After all, 247sports ranked Shell the third-best running back in the country (second-best from Pa.) and the 32nd overall player.
Another constant in Shell’s career has been competition. He led WVU in rushing his first season in Morgantown, but only had 28 more carries than Wendell Smallwood. The following season, Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing yards and had 77 more carries than Shell. As a senior, he took a backseat to Justin Crawford after suffering an injury. His 113 carries as a senior were the lowest season totals of his career, but that just means the Steelers are getting a player who is relatively fresh.
James Conner, the Steelers 3rd round draft pick, is a Pittsburgh product with a feel-good story. Shell’s story, albeit not nearly as life-threatening or inspiring as Conner’s, is still one of great persistence and perseverance.