By Matt Popchock
Hopewell senior running back Rushel Shell has been named the PIAA Class AAA Football Player of the Year, as voted on by Pennsylvania Sportswriters.
In other news, the artificial Christmas tree sitting in our living room is green.
Okay, okay, so maybe the case for Shell was a partially contested slam dunk. Bishop McDevitt defensive end Noah Spence, who recently committed to Ohio State, had an outstanding season of his own as well.
Spence helped the Crusaders to a second straight berth in the state finals while collecting 98 tackles and 13 sacks as a senior and earning Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year honors.
But Shell put together the kind of landmark campaign we most assuredly won’t see again for a very long time. The Pitt recruit ended the 2011 season with 2,312 rushing yards, the second-most in the WPIAL, and became the district’s career rushing leader in Week 4 against Mount Lebanon. Hopewell lost to Franklin Regional in the WPIAL Class AAA Quarterfinals, but not before Shell finished his career with 9,078 rushing yards to set the PIAA all-time record previously held by Bucknell standout Jeremiah Young.
He also ends his high school career with a national-record 39 consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. Eventual Heisman winner and NFL star Billy Sims held the old mark of 38. Shell, who was recently named a Sports Illustrated Second Team All-American (Spence was named a first-teamer by S.I.), has been named a USA Today First Team All-American as well.
The best part is, we don’t have to wait till he runs out of the tunnel at Heinz Field to see him on the gridiron one more time. Shell is one of seven top WPIAL players scheduled to appear in the first-ever Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl at Chase Field in Phoenix, which can be seen Tue., Jan. 3, at 6:00 P.M. on the CBS Sports Network.
Another member of the Parkway Conference, Montour head coach Lou Cerro, has been named PIAA Class AAA Coach of the Year. Cerro guided the Spartans to a 12-3 overall finish, their first-ever state semifinal appearance, and their first WPIAL championship since 1964.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Sportswriters bestowed similar honors upon another District 7 star from 2011. Junior running back Tyler Boyd, fresh off leading Clairton to a WPIAL record third consecutive state championship and 47th win in a row, was named the PIAA Class A Football Player of the Year.
Boyd was the WPIAL’s overall scoring leader this season, and, with his performance against Southern Columbia, beat out Shell for the district rushing lead. He ran for two key long-distance touchdowns late in the PIAA Class A Final to lead the Bears to victory over the Tigers, ending the year with 2,400 yards and 324 total points, including 48 all-purpose TD’s.
What do Shell and Boyd have in common? They’re both game-changers…and Pitt has jumped on both bandwagons early.
Dave Wannstedt began courting Shell during his award-winning freshman season, and despite the turmoil that has led to Paul Chryst’s takeover of that program, it seems the Hopewell superstar will stick with the Panthers.
Meanwhile, Pitt was also the first to approach Boyd and formally extend an offer. Regardless of the competition in Class A, Boyd is a speed demon and a very malleable athlete, and he could be one of the Class of 2013’s best bets locally.
Receiver and teammate Trenton Coles, who went down with an MCL tear last Friday, has already committed to Pitt for next fall, so it’ll be interesting to see if the two are reunited. If so, it would help get Chryst’s tenure as a recruiter off to a fine start.
Shell and Boyd are part of the 2011 All-PIAA Football Teams, which you can check out right here. Check back with the “Mr. High School Sports” blog later for more on the Class AAAA and Class AA All-PIAA teams.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)