Friday, October 14, 2011 | 2:55 PM

Rushel Shell is staying true to his colors. Once blue and gold, always blue and gold. Shell will go from the blue and gold of Hopewell High School to the blue and gold of Pitt next season. The star Hopewell running back announced at a news conference Friday morning that he will play for Pitt.

Shell made the announcement at Hopewell’s auxiliary gymnasium in front of cameras, newspaper and television reporters, and reporters from a few internet web sites.

"Well, next year I will be a Pitt Panther."

That was how Shell started the news conference. Pitt fans might have been dancing after that declaration.

Shell is ranked among the top five running backs in the country by scouting services. He became the WPIAL’s all-time leading rusher a few weeks ago and needs fewer than 200 yards to become only the fifth runner in Pennsylvania to reach 8,000 career yards.

And he might be seeing a lot of action in Pitt’s backfield next year. Starter Ray Graham is a junior, but likely could turn pro. Graham’s backup, Zach Brown, is a senior. Next in line at the running back position are four freshmen.

"I’m just expecting to come in, work by butt off, and earn my spot," Shell said. "I don’t want it to be given to me."

Shell called Pitt coach Todd Graham before the news conference to give him the good news. Although Shell made a verbal commitment to the Panthers, he can’t sign a binding letter of intent until February.

By the spring of Shell’s junior year, he had scholarship offers from colleges across the country. At one time – maybe as a sophomore or early in his junior year – Ohio State would’ve been his favorite. But things changed in Shell’s mind with problems surrounding Ohio State’s program.

In August, Shell said he had narrowed his choices to Pitt, Alabama, Florida and Virginia Tech. Then he threw in Oregon at one point. Then a few weeks ago, Shell said he had narrowed his choices to Pitt and Alabama.

But that was all pretty much talk. By August, Shell had made up his mind, but he didn’t want to make it public.

"I thought about it all summer and just came to my decision, probably like at the beginning of football season," Shell said.

"At first, it was a close decision. But then as time went, Pitt started to pull away and I just felt that it was the best choice for me."

Shell did not play in last week’s game against New Castle because of a concussion, but he will play in tonight’s contest at Central Valley. The game will be televised live by ESPNU.

Shell heads into the game with 7,825 yards rushing.

"At first, Alabama was in the picture a lot," Shell said. "But I just thought about it a lot what would fit me best, and I just thought Pitt was a perfect fit."


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