There is no miraculous growth spurt in Brandon Shell’s past — no summer when he zoomed from 6-foot-1 to his current size of 6-7 and 310 pounds.
“I was always bigger than everybody else,” Shell, an offensive lineman, said.
Steve Laprad can confirm that. Fort Dorchester’s football coach first saw Shell play as a ninth-grader, when Shell faced off against Fort Dorchester senior sensation Robert Quinn, who would go on to star at North Carolina.
“He was huge then,” Laprad said of Shell. “I don’t even know if he’s grown any.”
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Shell was at West Ashley High then and just figuring out that he might live up to his lofty family pedigree. Holding his own against Quinn was his first step in that direction.
“I felt like if I could hang with him a little bit,” Shell said, so “imagine me four or five years from now, what I can do.”
It’s four years later, and Shell no longer has to imagine. Wednesday, he sat at a table in the auditorium at his current school, Goose Creek High, and signed a national letter of intent to play for South Carolina, becoming — at least for now — the crown jewel in the Gamecocks’ signing class.
Dozens of coaches, teachers and students showed up for Shell’s 8 a.m. ceremony to celebrate with the school’s gentle giant.
“He is the nicest young man. He is just a nice person,” Goose Creek football coach Chuck Reedy said. “Sometimes that gets lost in all the attention he has gotten. Not once have I ever heard any of our players in any way resent the attention he gets, because he’s such a nice person. It has never in any way gone to his head. He has never changed the kind of person he is, and I think that’s remarkable for an 18-year-old young man because he has gotten an awful lot of attention the last two years.”
The Gamecocks didn’t recruit Shell for his demeanor, though. Scout.com ranks Shell a five-star prospect and the fifth-best offensive tackle in the country. He is the only five-star player in South Carolina’s class, pending the decision made by Jadeveon Clowney.
Rivals.com gives Shell four stars, but there’s no doubt he has five-star potential, Rivals national analyst Barry Every said.
“He’s as pretty as they come on the hoof,” Every said. “They probably haven’t signed a guy who looks as pretty on the hoof in the Steve Spurrier era. There is no question he has the athletic ability and the length to be a superior offensive lineman in the SEC.”
Shell comes by his size honestly. He is the great-nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Art Shell, and he got more than bulk from the former Raiders offensive tackle. Brandon sent his uncle film from his games at Goose Creek and got coaching tips in return. Art made two trips to Goose Creek this season for hands-on teaching, Brandon said.
“He tells me what I need to do, and what I don’t need to do,” Brandon said.
Art is not the only football player in the family. All three of his brothers also played college football.
“We’re a football family,” Brandon’s mother, Cherron, said.
While most mothers fret when their sons decide to play football, Cherron did so when her son said he wanted to play basketball.
“I don’t like basketball,” she said.
Her son did, though.
“When I started playing (football), I was just playing because everybody wanted me to, and I was big,” Brandon said. “I always grew up playing basketball in the front yard. Before the football thing came up, I always wanted to be a basketball player.”
But he couldn’t escape those genes.
“He’s the most athletic big guy that I’ve been around in 36 years of coaching, that being on the college level, the high school level, wherever,” Reedy said. “He’s got great feet. He can bend. He can do the things that you normally don’t associate with a big guy.”
There are only two chinks in Shell’s armor at this point. Goose Creek’s run-heavy offense has left him as an unpolished pass blocker, but that will come quickly to him, Reedy said.
“That’ll be the easiest thing for him to do,” his coach said. “Being a pass protector really is about moving your feet, and that will be something he will do very easily. The biggest thing he has to do is get stronger.”
That will be the harder jump for Shell to make to get ready for college football.
“He will play early because of his athleticism,” Reedy said. “He will be the most athletic offensive tackle they have. Now, how quickly he makes a real impact will be determined by strength and by his maturity. Is he mature enough to handle the mental and physical process of playing the SEC? You’ve got to be a mentally tough person to play in that league.”