“I just try to be the best at whatever I do.” It’s an assuring declaration courtesy of exceptional San Diego State Aztecs (SDSU) running back Donnel Pumphrey, Jr. (#19) during the recent College Football Awards media day. Ten days later, the puerile-looking star athlete proved his point, shattering records at the Las Vegas Bowl.
Pumphrey trumped ex-Wisconsin player Ron Dayne’s NCAA record for career rushing yards with SDSU’s 34-10 win over Houston. Smaller than the majority of his gridiron counterparts, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior hailing from northern Las Vegas concludes his college football career with a cumulative 6,405 yards, thanks to a 15-yard play in the fourth quarter. Pumphrey only needed 108 yards to break the former NFL player and 1999 Heisman winner’s 6,397 yard total.
Earlier this season, Pumphrey, then totaling 4,651 rushing yards, broke SDSU alumnus and NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk’s school record totaling 4,589 yards. Unassuming considering his physique and size, the pleasant, team-oriented athlete synonymous with synchronizing his hands and feet on the field, points out that his attitude eclipses his athletic abilities and track sprinter-like form.
Dayne even considers Pumphrey “the GOAT” via Twitter. “When I’m on the field, it’s how I go out there and try to carry myself,” the placid Doak Walker Award contender and Walter Camp All-American declares 24 hours after his 22nd birthday. “I’m not the biggest athlete on the team, but I just try to carry myself as if I am the biggest player. I try to show guys that I am meant to play football.”
Dressed in a full-buttoned blue flannel shirt, a few thin gold rope chains, rippled slim flit denim and Air Jordan Retro 3 sneakers, Pumphrey attributes his athleticism to being committed to training. It’s not uncommon for the intuitive, methodical challenger to spend countless hours in the film room reviewing game reels. The vigilant competitor insists that he can read plays quickly. Sifting through the diagrams ensures Pumphrey is knowledgeable of the opposing defense’s possible reactions.
Pumphrey says the preparation allows him to run between tackles or run his rivals over. “This helps my game a lot,” Pumphrey, who rushed for over 100 yards in 11 season games this year, confirms.
Being an essential element to the Aztecs clenching consecutive Mountain West Championships in 2015 and 2016 doesn’t come without crediting great leadership. Pumphrey, a social science major and double SDSU MVP, wastes no time sharing details on the Aztecs coaches’ old school directions.
Pumphrey ended his senior year garnering 2,133 yards. He considers the Aztecs “the hardest, toughest team out there.” “Coach [Rocky Long] and [Jeff Horton] do a great job with us in the off-season as well as getting us prepared for the games,” the former Canyon Springs High School standout and lover of Mexican food says. “The coaches do a great job.”
Like the synergy he’s formed with his SDSU teammates, Pumphrey’s adrenaline rushes whenever he is in the company of other college football superlatives. Traveling east to Atlanta for the College Football Awards a week-plus prior to his record-breaking bowl appearance ignited a spark in the dedicated sportsman.
“I see the way that these guys are carrying themselves,” Pumphrey says, “and I’m just excited to be here. Honestly, this is awesome. It’s just an honor to be here with the best of the best and be able to be welcomed. It’s pretty cool.”
Relaxed and considerate the entire four-minute chat, Pumphrey also shares his post-college aspirations in an environment where he can engage and interact with people from various communities. The father of a four-year-old daughter, Maliya, originally set his sights on a career in journalism. The thought of pursuing a career in the newsroom post-college still crosses his mind.
“I’m interested in hearing where other guys’ backgrounds come from,” Pumphrey confirms chased by a hint of giggles. “If the NFL doesn’t work out, hopefully I can be a counselor. I do love giving advice, and I love talking to people.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a visiting instructor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.