MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After his teammate Wendell Smallwood tied for last season’s NCAA lead with 59 rushes of 10 or more yards, Rushel Shell wouldn’t mind a West Virginia repeat.
Those mini-bursts, after all, could aggregate into Shell’s first 1,000-yard season since high school.
Given the opportunity to be a featured running back in 2016—and by his own description, given the chance “to reintroduce myself to college football”—Shell has heard the refrain from position coach Ja’Juan Seider about getting more out of the holes the offensive line provides.
“Definitely. It’s something Coach Seider has been making a big thing about, being able to make the first guy miss,” Shell said.
“I feel like this year I need to live up to the hype. That’s how I made a name for myself in high school, I was the carry-the-load guy, getting the ball 30 times a game.” — Rushel Shell
While the 220-pounder doesn’t flash elite speed, he has seen enough clips of 4- and 5-yard runs where bigger chunks were available. The solution could entail adding some deception, some wiggle, at the appropriate times, though Shell can’t stray too far from his physical nature.
“It’s good to start the game and run someone over, but later on you want to make them think that you’re going to run them over and then make a move and make them miss,” he said. It’s something that we’ve been focusing on.”
Speaking candidly Wednesday, Shell confessed “I ain’t too happy” about his inability to match the soaring expectations that greeted Pennsylvania’s all-time rushing leader (9,078 yards) and scoring champ (110 touchdowns).
Twice at West Virginia he has eclipsed 700 yards but has never reached 4.5-per-carry. In 2014, the Mountaineers were 4-0 when Shell carried 20 times or more. Last season, with Smallwood detonating to win the Big 12 rushing title, Shell reached 20 carries only once, in the 44-24 loss to Oklahoma.
“I feel like this year I need to live up to the hype,” he said. “That’s how I made a name for myself in high school, I was the carry-the-load guy, getting the ball 30 times a game. I feel like I can do that.”
Challenging the senior is an early enrollee, freshman Kennedy McKoy, whom Shell raves about. Junior college national player of the year Justin Crawford arrived during June in time to pick up most of the offense, coach Dana Holgorsen said. Another true freshman, Martell Pettway, adds to a potentially dynamic position room, where Shell is happy to answer the newcomers’ questions about scheme and responsibilities.
“It’s a do-die season,” he said. “It’s just time to give everything I’ve got, so that later on I won’t have anything to regret.”