Rushel Shell has decided to transfer from Pitt, Panther-Lair.com has learned.
Shell's decision, which was initially reported by Gregg Giannotti of 93.7 The Fan, comes after several days of limbo regarding his future at Pitt. Shell was absent from practice last week; after he missed Tuesday's workout, multiple sources told Panther-Lair.com that he was considering a transfer.
On Thursday, Pitt head coach Paul Chryst released the following statement on Shell's situation:
"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."
Over the weekend, sources told Panther-Lair.com that Shell, a running back from Hopewell, had not made a decision on whether to return to Pitt, but he received his transfer papers on Monday and will finalize the departure process on Tuesday.
Shell's potential destination is not known, although sources have said he is looking at schools in the PAC-12. UCLA is one likely option, as is Arizona State, where Todd Graham is the head coach. Graham recruited Shell to Pitt and received a commitment from him in the fall of 2011 before leaving to coach the Sun Devils.
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 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.
With Shell gone, the Panthers 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.
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