As Seahawks fans hoped and anticipated, the team reacted fast on the first day free agents could officially sign last month to reel in a player who grew up in South Carolina and later starred for his state university.
A player who was so touted as a high-school senior for the class of 2011 that Alabama coach Nick Saban mounted a fevered late recruiting push to try to sign him even if everyone figured he was just going to stay in-state.
But wait, the Seahawks haven’t signed Jadeveon Clowney, right?
But while that description above fits Clowney, on whom the Seahawks and the rest of the NFL are still waiting (and waiting, and waiting), it also fits a player the Seahawks did sign — right tackle Brandon Shell, who spent the last four seasons with the New York Jets.
And if no one needed to be told who Clowney was when he arrived in Seattle last fall, the signing of Shell sent even serious Seahawks scurrying to Pro Football Reference to find out more about the player brought in to replace the departed Germain Ifedi.
So, here are four things to know, starting with his relationship with one of the NFL’s most famous offensive linemen ever.
Art Shell used to watch his practices from a car
Shell’s great uncle is Art Shell, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after starring with the Raiders as a tackle from 1968-82 and then later becoming the first African-American coach in NFL history with the Raiders in 1989. Art Shell is the uncle of Brandon Shell’s mother.
Brandon Shell was born in Goose Creek, S.C., where as a junior he moved back into the district to play for Goose Creek High and coach Chuck Reedy.
Reedy, a longtime college coach (he was the head coach of the Baylor team that lost to Washington State in the 1994 Alamo Bowl) recalled in a recent phone interview that on the first day of practice that year “I saw a guy parked at the end of our practice field. We had a fence and he was parked outside. I didn’t know who it was so I walked down there and it was Art and he was just sitting in his car watching practice. And he just never did get out.’’
Art Shell, living in Atlanta, attended a few more practices and games and has mentored Brandon throughout his football career.
“We went on the field and worked on some things, and watched some film together,” Art Shell said in a 2016 Charleston, S.C. Post and Courier story. “I would ask him questions: ‘What are you thinking here? What are you doing? Why are you doing that?’”
In 2017, Shell went public about a childhood stuttering problem
Reedy says of Brandon Shell that “he is probably the nicest young man I have coached, and I have coached for 40 years and I’ve never met a young man any nicer than Brandon. He is just a genuinely good person.’’
Those traits were tested during a time in his childhood life that proved especially challenging.
In 2017, during his second season with the New York Jets, Shell starred in a TV spot for the team and its STOMP Out Bullying campaign.
Shell used the occasion to reveal in an interview with the Associated Press that he had dealt with a stuttering problem in his youth and encountered bullying as a result. For years, he said, that made him reluctant to speak up in class.
“I couldn’t get the words out,” Shell said. “I could see the words, but I just couldn’t get them out.”
Football, though, helped give Shell some of the resources he needed to move on to South Carolina, where he ended up earning a degree in sociology from South Carolina in three-and-a-half years.
“I feel like I kind of overcame it because now I’m at the point in my life where there’s no use in me hiding anything,’’ he told the AP in 2017. “If I stutter, I stutter. It’s life. I have to accept it. It’s something I was dealt.”
He became friends with Clowney in high school and each turned down Alabama to stay home
By his senior year, Shell was regarded as a top 100 recruit nationally and among the top 10 offensive tackle prospects. He finished among the runners-up for the state’s Mr. Football award to a defensive line standout from not too far away —- Jadeveon Clowney, from Rock Hill (Goose Creek is about 90 minutes from the USC campus in Columbia, and Rock Hill about an hour).
Reedy says Shell and Clowney “got to be good friends’’ during the recruiting process. “They were in the same class and they all kind of decided together that they were going to go to South Carolina.”
Clowney, though, didn’t publicly commit to South Carolina (then coached by Steve Spurrier) until two weeks after signing day and after big pushes by Clemson and Alabama. That resulted in Clowney’s later comments in an interview with Fox Sports of Saban that “The guy ain’t nothing but 5-5. He’s a short guy. Everybody’s going crazy on Nick Saban. He talked the whole time he was there (during a home visit). I was dozing off. He can talk. A lot. He talked for a whole straight hour.”
Saban likewise put a full-court press on Shell, according to Reedy, who had known Saban for years.
“He felt they had an in with Art,’’ Reedy recalled, saying he got a call from the Alabama assistant handling Shell’s recruitment about a week before signing day that Saban wanted to try one last time.
“I said ‘coach, I wouldn’t bring my head coach over here cause I don’t think yall’s got a good chance. I think he’s going to go to South Carolina,’’’ Reedy said. “But he said ‘coach Saban thinks he can convince him.’ And sure enough Saban flies up and visits with him. But he was going to go to South Carolina.’’’
Right tackle is his football home
Shell had a slower-than-expected start to his South Carolina career, redshirting his first season while the Gamecocks transitioned him to left tackle. Reedy says Shell always played right tackle in high school even though he tried a few times to move Shell to the left side.
“He was just more comfortable on the right side,’’ Reedy said.
That proved to be the case initially at South Carolina, as well. He started the first game of his redshirt freshman season in 2012 at left tackle, but the following week coaches decided to move him back to the right side, where he started the next three years.
South Carolina went 11-2 every season from 2011-13 while Clowney was there before he left for the NFL and became the first pick in the 2014 draft.
Shell, while he’d become a starter, wasn’t ready to make that move and ended up staying for two more years, eventually moving to the left side as a senior in 2015.
He was taken in the fifth round by the Jets, who moved him back to the right side where he became a full-time starter in his second season in 2017.
He was perceived to be a player on the rise in 2018 when he started 14 games at right tackle for the Jets, earning plaudits from Pro Football Focus for allowing the second-lowest pressure rate in one four-game span of any right tackle.
But he suffered a knee injury late in the year that required surgery and then struggled to regain the same form in 2019 when he was briefly benched and ultimately started 11 games, allowing seven sacks, tied for ninth among all tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Jets and Seahawks ultimately just made something of a trade, with New York signing George Fant to a three-year deal worth up to $30 million (though with plans to play him at left tackle) and Seattle signing Shell to take over Ifedi’s right tackle spot, a two-year deal worth up to $9 million with $5.1 million guaranteed (and Ifedi eventually signing a one-year deal with the Bears worth $1.0475 million).
The contract is just enough to indicate Seattle plans to basically pencil him in a right tackle, but not so much that Shell won’t have to keep proving his worth.
Reflecting a few years ago to the AP on the bullying he received as a child, though, had Shell sounding as if he’s ready for any challenge football presents.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant or cocky, but look at me now,’’ Shell said. “I took all the bullying you all threw at me and all the criticism and everything you threw at me, but I made it to where I wanted to go in life. It all made me stronger along the way.”