Donnel Pumphrey: The Road to 6,405

Credit: ESPN

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Credit: ESPN

Donnel Pumphrey will leave San Diego State this year with a list of accomplishments longer than any recent college running back.

Let’s take a look at where it all started.

His freshman season, he averaged 6.0 yards per carry on 125 touches for 752 total yards on the ground and 10 (eight rushing, two receiving) touchdowns as a backup. His sophomore year, he established himself as a starter. During his first full season starting, he finished with 1,867 total rushing yards on 276 carries and 20 touchdowns. That massive number of yards broke the previous Aztec record held by George Jones which was set way back in 1955. Those numbers also put him among the top three rushers in the nation that season (behind Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman).

Pumphrey’s junior season, he took his game to a new level. He went on to rush for his second consecutive 1,600+ yard season, meanwhile scoring 17 touchdowns. He also added on 414 receiving yards and three touchdowns (both more than his previous two seasons combined).

Now his senior year, this is where things started to take off. Game by game he was moving himself up the ladder on both the all-time rushing yards and touchdowns lists, finishing the season with 2,018 yards and 16 touchdowns. All while adding 205 more receiving yards to his total. Now before we go on to look at his long list of awards, let’s go to the city where it all began for him and see how it all ended for Mr. Donnel “D.J” Pumphrey.

What started out as shaky Saturday afternoon at the Las Vegas Bowl for Donnel Pumphrey turned into one of the most memorable moments in San Diego sports history. The Aztecs went three-and-out to open the game, then quickly fell down 10-0 to the Houston Cougars. During this time, number 19 ran for a total of -1 yards on six carries.

Donnel would finally get himself some yards with a monster 30-yard run that would eventually lead to an Aztec field goal. He would then go on to find the end zone, and give the Aztecs their lead with a 32-yard touchdown run in the final minutes of the third quarter. After this run is when people really started to feel what was going on.

After his first four carries landed him a total of negative four rushing yards, a feeling of uncertainty began to sit in. And I’m sure a small grin grew across the face of Mr. Ron Dayne.

With an entire quarter to go, and only 11 more yards until the record, that feeling of excitement began to grow.

Credit: R.Dorsha

With 12:41 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Pumphrey and the Aztecs lined up in the I-Formation. Chapman snapped the ball and handed it to Donnel who made a couple cuts in the backfield, made a man miss, then broke up the sideline for 15 yards. You can watch it happen here for anyone that is interested. Number 19 would come in one play later, shaking hands with all his lineman, and then his receivers and his quarterback before making a short three yard run. After this, he came out of the game, obviously overrun by emotions in the city where he was raised.

A storybook ending for Donnel Pumphrey’s college career. Rushing for 115 yards on 19 carries and an important touchdown in a monstrous 34-10 Las Vegas Bowl game win. He’ll now move into the draft as one of the smallest, yet most proven and most accomplished running backs.

All of this is being discredited by a man I mentioned earlier, Ron Dayne.

Earlier this week, Dayne made a comment on how his bowl game totals were never added to his total yards because a rule change in 2002 added bowl game stats to total stats. He claimed, and continues to claim, that he is the true rushing leader. His Twitter bio reads “NCAA All-Time Career Rushing Leader including bowl games  ~ 1999 Heisman Trophy Winner ~ 2013 College Football HOF”, and right after Donnel broke his record he tweeted out this. Ron Dayne is a man who was soon forgotten after he left Wisconsin, and attention being brought to Donnel Pumphrey seems to be making him a tad bit jealous. But Mr. Dayne’s comments take nothing away from the career numbers 19 has had in the NCAA. Donnel Pumphrey’s name is going to be on top of Ron Dayne’s for years and years to come.

During his tenure in the NCAA, Donnel Pumphrey was the 2013 SDSU Outstanding Freshman, the 2015 and 2016 MWC Offensive Player of the Year, 2014 2015 and 2016 First Team All Mountain-West, Two-Time Sports Illustrated All American, Maxwell Award Semifinalist, and a 2016 Heisman Candidate.

But no matter what he goes on to accomplish, or maybe even not accomplish at the next level, he will without a doubt be a player that people will tell their kids about, that sports new stations will refer to everywhere when a new up-and-coming back is making his way through the ranks, and as a San Diego sports legend. In a season that was full of ups and downs, and in a time period where San Diego sports is among its lowest, we, the fans of San Diego, have been given something to be proud of for a long time.


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