West Virginia didn't get running back Rushel Shell the first time around in 2012.
Shell, a former 5-star prospect from Aliquippa, Pa. (Hopewell), committed to Pittsburgh over offers from Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, and yes, the Mountaineers.
But, Shell's career with the Panthers never fully materialized. Following his freshman season, in which he finished as the team's second-leading rusher, Shell left the team. After briefly flirting with the idea of going to UCLA, Shell transferred to West Virginia.
It's a second chance for Shell, just as it is a second chance for the Mountaineers. A feature on Shell from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last October by J. Brady McCollough showed just how much is riding on that second chance. West Virginia assistant coach Tony Gibson, a former Pitt assistant who's twice recruited Shell, told McCollough:
Right now, he understands this is it for him. What he has to do is make sure he accepts his role, and his role right now is to go down on the scout team. Sometimes guys who are highly recruited guys, it's hard for them to swallow, and he's done a tremendous job just going down there and working, giving us a good look.
Shell sat out the '13 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. He'll be in the thick of the running back competition this offseason, along with Dustin Garrison, Wendell Smallwood and Dreamius Smith. Andrew Buie, who left the program last August, returns this spring as well.
There's no doubting Shell has skill, but what kind of season can he have in 2014? West Virginia's backfield is nothing if not loaded.
There has been an interesting trend, though. The 'Eers have had a different leading rusher in each of the past four seasons. Noel Devine led the team in 2010, Garrison in '11, Buie in '12 and Charles Sims in '13.
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There are different reasons, of course. Devine and Sims were seniors, while Garrison spent the 2012 season recovering from a knee injury he sustained prior to West Virginia's Orange Bowl victory.
Can Shell be the fifth different leading rusher in as many years? He has the size, speed and strength that coaches look for in an every-down back. But he won't be able to do everything by himself.
The running game, which was the strength of the West Virginia offense a season ago, will be tested with a new-look offensive line. For as inconsistent as the Mountaineers were in the trenches, they had some veteran guys. Seniors Pat Eger, Curtis Feigt and Nick Kindler are gone now.
When it comes to great offensive line play, it's all about repetition as a group.
Most importantly, Shell has to prove that what Gibson said about him last October is true: That he's recharged and refocused on turning his talent into greatness. Whether Shell stays at West Virginia one more season or three, he's going to be watched closely and probably scrutinized.
That's part of the territory for a high-profile transfer—Shell's used to it by now.
All he can do is move forward. The departure from Pitt wasn't the end of the world for Shell. He has another opportunity to finish what he started with the Panthers.
If Shell can cement himself in West Virginia's running back rotation, his comeback should be considered a success. Anything more would simply add to it.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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