Pitt's Rushel Shell finds running room against Virginia Tech's Michael Cole and Detrick Bonner last season.
By J. Brady McCollough Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Morgantown, W.Va., is a long way from Los Angeles in just about every imaginable sense. If Rushel Shell had stayed on his original course, from Pitt to UCLA, the drama surrounding the talented running back's departure from his hometown program could have easily evaporated into the Southern California haze.
After Shell announced Friday he will transfer to West Virginia, Pitt's longtime bitter rival, his abilities could be on display just 80 miles south of Oakland.
The Backyard Brawl might be on hiatus -- due to Pitt's jump to the Atlantic Coast Conference, West Virginia's move to the Big 12 and various other decades-old grudges -- but if Shell ends up starring for the Mountaineers beginning in 2014, Panthers fans will have to get used to living with the indignity.
Shell, a prep sensation at Hopewell High School who rushed for a state-record 9,078 yards, will have three years of eligibility remaining after sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. And it would certainly seem, given a look at West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen's depth chart, that Shell would be the right kind of thunder to join lightning-fast Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison in the Mountaineers backfield.
Of course, that would mean that everything had gone according to plan. This being Rushel Shell, West Virginia fans ought to hold their breath, cross their fingers, whatever physical machinations can be conjured.
It has been a wild and unpredictable few months for Shell.
He burst onto the scene as a freshman at Pitt, rushing for 641 yards and four touchdowns. With the graduation of 2012 starter Ray Graham, Shell appeared a lock to be a workhorse back in Paul Chryst's run-heavy offense for the next two years before potentially moving to the NFL.
In late March, the entire plan unraveled in front of Shell like all those WPIAL defenses.
He didn't show up to some spring practices, which led to him taking some time away from the team, which led to his decision that he would transfer.
Within a couple of weeks, he had visited UCLA and committed to the Bruins, despite that his 16-month-old twin daughters, Arionna and Amiyah, are being raised in Aliquippa.
Shell was gone to Los Angeles, changing his name on Twitter to "Mr. Hollywood," until suddenly he wasn't going anywhere.
On June 26, his mother, Toni Zuccaro, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette her son had a change of heart, wanting to stay close to his daughters. UCLA never publicly commented on Shell.
So Shell contacted Pitt about returning to the Panthers, but found out from a local news broadcast that Chryst was not going to take him back. He came up with a new list of schools -- West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio State -- but it's unclear how much of a battle there was for his services.
Now, Shell is a Mountaineer. He will be able to drive an hour and a half to see his twin daughters as he tries to resuscitate a once-promising football career.
And he will have to do it with the heat of thousands of frustrated and annoyed Pitt fans to the north staring down on him.