- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
It’s known simply as “The Stiff-Arm Felt ’round the World” to the more than 2,000 people who have watched the video.
Aliquippa (Pa.) Hopewell running back Rushel Shell takes a kickoff and runs toward the left sideline, where he is greeted by a badly outmatched, undersized Blackhawk special teams player. The encounter was brief; in less than a second, Shell was the down the field after putting the Blackhawk player on his back at the 45-yard line, where some joke his outline still remains.
“He went around the edge, grabbed the kid’s helmet and threw him into the ground,” said Hopewell quarterback Nolan Harmotto, who put it among his top Shell plays. “I think they had to take it off YouTube because the kid’s parents were embarrassed.”
On Friday, Shell, ranked No. 24 in the ESPNU 150 and No. 3 among running backs, will announce where he will be taking his speed, power and devastating stiff arm at a ceremony at 8 a.m. at his high school. Shell is down to Alabama and Pittsburgh.
“When we were younger, we just saw him as another good player,” Hopewell tight end and longtime friend Zach Gula said, “but as he got older it was pretty neat watching him play varsity as a freshman and starting. It’s pretty cool one of our close friends has Division I offers.”
Those offers are countless as Shell has one from nearly every program, but he came to a decision on one back in the summer. He has kept that decision to himself and just his closest friends and family, though.
Many believe Pitt, which is less than a 30-minute drive from Aliquippa, is the frontrunner for Shell’s services as the local school. Shell said he has built a solid relationship with the new coaching staff, most notably head coach Todd Graham and running backs coach Calvin Magee.
“He’s a great guy,” Shell said of Graham in an interview two weeks ago. “We got a great relationship.
“Coach Magee is a great guy, too. I can’t really complain about him being the running backs coach; he’s had plenty of 1,000-yard rushers.
“I think they can turn that program around and become a national threat.”
Under Nick Saban, though, Alabama has an impressive list of running backs it has developed: Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.
“Alabama is a great running school,” he said. “They have a great past of running the ball.”
Alabama and Pitt likely wouldn’t be the two finalists for Shell if it weren’t for the turmoil surrounding Ohio State. Friday would have been the day Shell announced he commit to the Buckeyes, but with Jim Tressel resigning and NCAA sanctions on the horizon, Shell crossed the Buckeyes off his list.
“Everyone does it, it’s just a matter of who gets caught,” Shell said. “They got caught so now they’re facing the consequences.
“It’s kind of upsetting because I most likely would have went there. I guess everything happens for a reason.”
Whether he goes to Alabama or Pitt, Shell wants a chance to break in to the rotation early. He’ll have the opportunity to do that at both places. Pitt has an inviting depth chart, and Alabama isn’t reluctant to play freshman running backs. Richardson is a candidate to declare for the NFL draft after the season, too.
Shell hopes to make the same impact as a freshman in college as he did in high school, where coach Dave Vestal couldn’t justify keeping Shell off the varsity team and, later, as the team’s starting running back.
“Every time he got in the game he’d bust a big one,” Vestal said. “It kind of became evident he needed to become our starting tailback.
“We knew we had something special.”
455dTom Luginbill and Craig Haubert