MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As exiled Pitt running back Rushel Shell mulled West Virginia among his transfer options last summer, and West Virginia mulled whether to accept him, newly hired Mountaineers running backs coach JaJaun Seider sought a second and third opinion.
He chatted with fellow assistant Tony Gibson, who recruited the four-star prospect out of Aliquippa, Pa., when Shell was smashing the Pennsylvania high school career rushing record. Gibson vouched for the kid, who had been suspended for a game during his lone season at Pitt, subsequently left the Panthers during the offseason and was denied a return by head coach Paul Chryst.
For pure football feedback, Seider also talked with Virginia Tech linebackers coach Cornell Brown, whose Hokies had been flattened by the freshman Shell for 157 yards on 23 carries in 2012.
“Cornell said ‘Man, that son of a gun was the toughest kid we played all year,'” said Seider, who came to view Shell as a low-risk gamble. “I respect those guys’ opinions, and bringing in Rushel didn’t cost us nothing because he walked on first semester.”
As last fall played out and Seider witnessed Shell going from pudgy to punishing while working as a scout-teamer, the coach more fully realized what brand of player WVU added.
“The biggest thing I saw in him was body transition,” Seider said. “He firmed up. He looked like a dude—he looked like that guy who you talked about coming out of high school.”
The dude flashed plenty of moves during the bye week preceding WVU’s season finale, when the coaching staff ceded practice reps to younger players.
“He can do some things that are so natural,” Seider said. “For a big guy, the way he can make jump-cuts, and his feet being as light as they are, he’s special.
“But I also know he’s going to go forward. He’s not going be a guy trying to make somebody miss all the time. He’s going to be a guy who’s going to finish a run.”
Shell’s end-of-run toughness could rub off on talented senior Dreamius Smith, who ran for 545 yards and five touchdowns last season yet danced too much for the coaches’ liking.
“Dreamius still has what we coaches call a lot of ‘basketball’ in him, where Rushel is all football,” Seider said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to be 225 pounds and run right through somebody.”
With Shell and Smith leading a deep contingent of returnees—see sophomore Wendell Smallwood and juniors Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie—West Virginia’s backfield looks well-stocked for next season. Four-star recruit Donte Thomas-Williams of Durham, N.C., also is scheduled to arrive in summer. And according to Seider, the transfer Shell showed an all-in attitude by playing pitch man to prospects in WVU’s recent signing class.
“He was one of our best recruiters during the offseason, the way he handled kids when they came on official visits,” Seider said. “You’d have thought he never went to Pitt.
“He’s only an hour and a half away from home, but he’s away from those distractions. I think he finally felt like he was at peace with himself.”