By Stephen Spiewak
While launching one of the most successful freshman seasons in Pennsylvania history, Hopewell (Aliquippa, Pa.) running back Rushel Shell commanded the respect of his coaches, members of the media and fans alike.
However, his most important achievement was gaining the trust and admiration of his teammates, predominantly upperclassmen, who he’d be going to battle with each week, and who weren’t particularly accustomed to ninth graders stealing the spotlight.
“When you’re a senior or a junior and you see a frosh coming in, that’s hard,” said Hopewell head coach Dave Vestal. “But he has a great work ethic and earned the respect of his teammates.
“The great thing about it is that he earned everything he got. He was given nothing.”
Shell meshed nicely with the rest of the Vikings, and had a prolific season by anyone’s standards. The 6-foot, 210-pound back gained 1,516 yards and scored 14 touchdowns after being thrust into a starting role in week six.
“We slowly worked him in, and every time he came in, he made big plays,” Vestal said.
He helped lead the Vikings to the AAA playoffs, where they fell 36-15 to eventual state champion Thomas Jefferson. Shell became only the second back to rush for 100 yards against the Jaguars on the season, compiling 153 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns.
“He’s way better than I thought he was,” Thomas Jefferson head coach Bill Cherpak told the Post-Gazette after the game.
He was later named to the Post-Gazette’s Fabulous 22 list, the only freshman honored.
Shell has also been impressive off the field. In addition to being a good student, he has done well dealing with the flood of attention that he has gotten, according to Vestal.
“He’s handled himself very well with the media,” he said. “He’s very mature and well spoken.”
Media members aren’t the only ones flocking to Shell. College coaches are also noticing the freshman phenom, who reportedly has speed in the 4.4 range and can already bench press 300 pounds.
“He’s been down to a couple of Pitt games on his own doing, with his friends. They’ve expressed a lot of interest,” said Vestal, who also mentioned Ohio State and Notre Dame as other schools who have shown a preliminary desire to recruit Shell in the future.
The name most frequently associated with Shell when it comes to his potential seems to be that of Tony Dorsett, who attended Hopewell in the early 1970s.
Perhaps that’s because Dorsett himself raves about Shell’s abilities.
“I can’t believe he’s only a freshman,” Dorsett told the Tribune-Review in November after watching Shell play in a locally televised game. “Once he learns how to really run and get a body lean and make people miss, I would predict he'll be the No. 1 recruit out of high school.”
Dorsett certainly isn’t alone.
For his tremendous production and boundless potential, Rushel Shell is the MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year.
Devonte Neal, WR/DB, Chavez (Laveen, Ariz.)
Maty Mauk, QB, Kenton (Kenton, Ohio)
More All-American Coverage:
Sophomore All-American Team
Junior All-American Team
National Coach of the Year
Small School All-Americans
Medium School All-Americans
MaxPreps All-Americans/Player of the Year