West Virginia has no shortage of running backs, but Hopewell High School graduate Rushel Shell is making a serious push for playing time this fall, his first season since transferring from Pitt.
Dana Holgorsen said Shell, a redshirt sophomore, had a few runs in a recent practice that reminded the coach, “Yeah, I can see why the hype is there.” Holgorsen added Shell has the best ball skills of the loaded running back corps and has been “running people over.”
Shell rushed for 641 yards and four touchdowns in 2012 as a freshman at Pitt. He sat out last season due to transfer restrictions. Now he’s back, and according to Holgorsen he hasn’t lost a step.
“[Shell] runs angry, but he can surprise you in the open field,” Holgorsen said Monday. “I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve seen out of him.”
There’s still plenty of competition. Senior tailback Dreamius Smith remains the likely front-runner for the starting job after he rushed for 494 yards and five touchdowns last season in backup duties behind Charles Sims.
Smith had a knee scope a month ago and has taken limited snaps in practice.
“We have to get Dreamius going,” Holgorsen said. “There are a lot of bodies there [to split reps with]. … We did this on purpose. We wanted to feed the other guys the ball early so that he could get his legs underneath him.”
No youth movement
Holgorsen repeatedly has mentioned that the depth this season looks far better than it did the past three. Monday, he backed that with an encouraging number: Two.
That’s how many freshmen Holgorsen expects to play this season.
Though West Virginia has 18 freshmen on the roster, Holgorsen said at this point he expects all but quarterback William Crest and safety Dravon Henry, a former Aliquippa standout, to redshirt. Crest has taken reps at quarterback and punt returner, while Henry is in a two-man race for a starting safety position.
“The rest of them, right now, would be pretty good redshirt candidates,” Holgorsen said. “That’s a good position to be in. That’s where you want to be. … I don’t think we’re going to need those [extra] bodies.”
West Virginia played six freshmen in 2013.
By the same rules
In light of the NCAA’s recent decision to allow unlimited meals to student-athletes, Holgorsen said he expects schools will “use this to their advantage on the recruiting trail.”
The next step, he said, will be for the power-five conferences, which are soon to be granted autonomy, to regulate the food offerings so every school “is kind of doing the same thing.”
He said West Virginia has no plans to make immediate upgrades to dining options.
Asked whether he will set aside time to determine how to pitch West Virginia to recruits, Holgorsen offered a winding explanation.
“It’s more about what reality is,” he said. “You lie in recruiting a bunch, that’s just kind of part of it. You become a salesman. But what are we actually doing? How much are we actually feeding our guys? What are we actually giving our guys?
“Our job is to get kids on campus, and while they’re on campus our kids do a lot of recruiting. They spend a lot of time with the players. I encourage recruits to ask a lot of questions about how we really are, about how it really is here. We encourage that.
“So the players aren’t going to lie to them. Whatever we’re able to do for them, administratively, that will either work to our advantage or our disadvantage.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.