His first time in a Hopewell High School uniform, his first game, his first carry -- and Rushel Shell's greatness was evident.
The first time he touched the ball as a wide-eyed freshman, Shell was in the end zone 55 yards later. One carry. One touchdown. One gigantic sign of things to come.
Four years later, Shell leaves behind a legacy that will be hard to duplicate. He is the most prolific runner in the history of Pennsylvania high school football, a holder of WPIAL, state and national records -- and now one of the select few to be named a two-time winner of the Post-Gazette Player of the Year award.
Since 1994, the PG has been selecting an overall player of the year among all WPIAL and City League teams. Besides Shell, the only other two-time winners were Jeannette's Terrelle Pryor and Central Catholic's Eugene Jarvis.
And you could see the greatness coming on that Aug. 29 night of 2008. It happened in -- of all places -- Tony Dorsett Stadium in Hopewell.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Shell. "I was playing, like, a wingback position. I came in motion, got the ball and just ran. It was my first game. I remember I had six carries and scored three times."
Shell has a pretty good memory. He was off only one carry. He had seven carries that first game and scored three TDs.
This season, Shell, a 6-foot, 210-pound senior, ran for 2,312 yards on 311 attempts for a team that made it to the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals. It was the third year in a row he ran for more than 2,000 yards.
Here are some of his records:
• WPIAL and state all-time leading rusher with 9,078 yards on 1,107 carries.
• Scored WPIAL record 110 touchdowns.
• Set a national record with 39 consecutive 100-yard games. The last time he was held to fewer than 100 yards was as a freshman.
"I'd probably say the 100-yard record means the most," Shell said. "Whenever you can set a record nationally, that's pretty much a big deal."
Some of Shell's other statistics also are awfully impressive. He ran for 1,516 yards as a freshman, 2,740 as a sophomore and 2,510 as a junior. He rushed for 200 yards or more in 25 games during his career. He played in 44 games and averaged 206 yards rushing a game. And his durability was evident throughout his career as he had 16 games in which he carried the ball 30 or more times.
"I can say year by year I got smarter on how to play," Shell said. "Whether it was from taking unnecessary hits to letting a certain lineman get to the hole before I do."
For the past two years, Shell constantly said his No. 1 goal was not personal records, but a WPIAL championship for coach Dave Vestal's team. His team never won a title, losing in the WPIAL final as a sophomore and in the quarterfinals the other three years.
"There is always going to be that little thing in the back of my head, telling me I didn't win a championship, but I learned to get over it a little more as time moved on," Shell said. "I've learned to enjoy all the positive things I had throughout my career, and enjoy the bonds I made with my teammates."
Not many players in the history of the WPIAL have been publicized as much as Shell. He admitted the attention was hard to deal with at times. The past few years, he didn't return many calls from newspaper reporters or internet recruiting sites.
"I learned everyone knows everything about you, no matter what you do," Shell said. "It just all made me take a step back and realize that in everything you do, there were only a few people I could really trust. There were a lot of people, if they found out one thing, it would spread all over the school.
"I didn't call back reporters sometimes because I didn't want to be looked at as just wanting to be in the newspaper. I didn't want to be known as trying to be a pretty boy or a big shot."
While Shell has a truckload of memories from football, his high school athletic career isn't over yet. He is averaging around 20 points a game for the Hopewell basketball team and said he plans to play baseball in the spring.
Then it's off to Pitt after graduation. Shell made a verbal commitment to Pitt in October, turning down scholarship offers from many schools across the country. Shell is ranked among the top running backs in the country.
Even though Todd Graham is no longer Pitt's coach, Shell said he has not changed his mind about the Panthers.
"Everything happens for a reason," Shell said. "Who knows? [Graham's departure] might be a blessing."
Shell said he has no plans to visit other schools.
"I'm set on Pitt, no matter who's the coach," he said.
A quick look at the past players of the year ...
1994: Brandon Short, McKeesport
1995: Tony Zimmerman, Penn-Trafford
1996: LaVar Arrington, North Hills
1997: Brandon Williams, Valley
1998: Rod Rutherford, Perry
1999: Cecil Howard, McKeesport
2000: Josh Lay, Aliquippa
2001: Tyler Palko,West Allegheny & Steve Breaston, Woodland Hills
2002: Paul Posluszny, Hopewell
2003: Eugene Jarvis, Central Catholic
2004: Eugene Jarvis, Central Catholic
2005: Dorin Dickerson, West Allegheny
2006: Terrelle Pryor, Jeannette
2007: Terrelle Pryor, Jeannette
2008: Dorian Bell, Gateway
2009: Mike Caputo, West Allegheny
2010: Rushel Shell, Hopewell
2011: Rushel Shell, Hopewell
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1975. First Published December 23, 2011 5:00 AM