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March 28, 2013Rushel Shell will take time away from the Pitt football program, head coach Paul Chryst announced Thursday.
"Like many college freshmen, Rushel is working through some challenges right now," Chryst said via official statement on Pitt's website. "As it is for all members of our team, my most important concern is his personal well-being.
"Rushel and his family have our full support. We are giving him time away from football to work through this situation but he very much remains a part of our family on a daily basis. We want to be sensitive and respectful of Rushel, and I would ask others to do the same."
Shell, a running back from Hopewell, missed Tuesday's practice, and multiple sources told Panther-Lair.com on Wednesday that he is considering a transfer from Pitt.
Shell met with Chryst Wednesday morning to discuss the decision; as of Thursday morning, Shell had not formally filed for a release from the program. Some sources have indicated that he is considering schools in the PAC-12 as possible destinations if he does decide to leave Pitt.
As a true freshman in 2012, Shell rushed for 641 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games. He was suspended for the season opener against Youngstown State, but spent the rest of the season as the top reserve behind Ray Graham. Shell took the bulk of the carries when Graham sat out the BBVA Compass Bowl, a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss.
Shell came to Pitt as the start of Chryst's first recruiting class in February 2012, and he brought an impressive pedigree to the Panthers. A four-year starter at Hopewell, Shell finished his career as the all-time leading rusher in the history of Pennsylvania high school football with 9,078 yards. He also set the state record with 110 career touchdowns, a record that was broken by 2013 Pitt recruit Tyler Boyd last year.
If Shell departs, the Panthers will have three scholarship running backs on the roster this spring: junior Isaac Bennett, redshirt sophomore Malcolm Crockett, and redshirt freshman Demitrious Davis.
Bennett is the most experienced, having been thrust into the lineup as a true freshman in 2011 due to injuries. He has appeared in 17 games - including two starts - over the last three seasons. In that time, Bennett rushed for 378 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He has also caught 22 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown. Bennett was expected to be Shell's backup this season, and he is now the likely starter.
Crockett played in 12 games last season and recorded 12 carries for 50 yards. Seven of those carries came in Pitt's 55-10 win over FCS team Gardner-Webb; the other five carries were in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Davis redshirted in 2012 and moved from receiver to running back this spring.
Pitt will also add another running back in Erie McDowell jumbo-athlete James Conner as a true freshman this summer.