Freshmen Shell, Voytik cope with ton of great expectations

PITT


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Rushel Shell and Chad Voytik are two of the biggest names among Pitt's incoming freshmen, but now that camp has started, both players know they have to work extremely hard to prove they are worthy of all of the hype they have received.

"It starts now," said Shell, a tailback from Hopewell. "I have to prove myself every day. I have to improve every day. I have to work hard every day. All of the awards and stuff was high school; that's over now. It is time to take this next step."

Shell, of course, is one of the most-decorated runners in Pennsylvania football history as he holds the state rushing record with 9,078 career rushing yards and a WPIAL record 110 career touchdowns. He also broke the national high school record -- held by former Oklahoma star Billy Sims -- by rushing for 100 yards or more in 39 consecutive games.

All that has raised expectations for Shell, who was the No. 3-ranked tailback prospect in the country last year and also happens to be from the same high school which produced Heisman Trophy and former Pitt great Tony Dorsett.

Shell said he knows plenty of expectations have been heaped on his shoulders but doesn't feel more pressure than any other freshman. He said his focus is on improvement.

"I just have to come out and work hard every day and know that the guys, my teammates, are going to push me to get better every day," Shell said. "I want to prove to coaches that they can trust me, that I am more mature than other kids my age. Now that I am here, it is all about football.

"And the fact that [Dorsett] went to the same high school as me and same college, I don't let that put pressure on me, I just look at it as I am trying to catch up with him and try to accomplish what he did."

Shell will have to beat out senior Ray Graham, one of the best tailbacks in the country, sophomores Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis and redshirt freshman Malcolm Crockett.

The same can't be said for Voytik, from Cleveland, Tenn,, and the No. 4 quarterback prospect in the country as rated by Rivals,com last year. The depth at quarterback is thin for the Panthers.

Senior Tino Sunseri is the starter, but the backup is sophomore Trey Anderson, a former walk-on who appeared in two games last year.

That means Voytik is, at worst, third on the depth chart and could work his way into the backup role or find himself in that role if Sunseri were to get injured.

He, like Shell, however, is not going to let expectations weigh him down.

"This is a great offense to be [in], and I feel like if I can make the right reads I can give myself a chance" Voytik said. "I'll do whatever is best for the team and, if that means using a year's experience being the backup, that is fine with me. I think I just mentally need to get everything down these first few days so that I can have a picture of what needs to be done and then physically execute it."

NOTES -- Graham, who is recovering from ACL surgery, had an excellent day Tuesday -- a big step forward from where he was Monday. Graham participated in all the drills, including team drills and had some nice cuts and moves. He said he felt much stronger. "I played with more confidence today, I went out there and just didn't think about things," Graham said. "The more I stretched, the better I felt, and I just went out and played. The first day was a test day, just trying to see how I feel, and I feel as though I am progressing as the days go on. And, hopefully, day three will be even better than day two. So this is a confidence thing, it is a mental thing and, like I said every time, the more I don't think about it and just do it the better I will feel." ... Another player returning from ACL surgery seemed to take some strides forward as linebacker Todd Thomas took some reps with the first team. ... Offensive tackle Tom Ricketts (upper body) did not practice. ... Outside linebacker Eric Williams had two interceptions and caused a third in team drills.

pittfball

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com and Twitter @paulzeise.


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