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Donnel Pumphrey is #1 all-time NCAA rushing leader

Three minutes into quarter four of the Las Vegas Bowl, Pumphrey ran the most important 15 yards of his life against Houston, passing Ron Dayne as #1 all time rushing leader.

Tell Donnel Pumphrey he can’t do something.

Tell him he can’t play high school football -- he won’t be able to compete. Say to him: “you’ll never make it in college ball. You’ll get crushed.” Overlook him. Tell yourself that there’s no way Donnel can shake off a 280-lb lineman at 5’9” and 180 lbs. Say to yourself: this guy doesn’t stand a chance.

Then, watch him run right down the middle, in between 1400 lbs of defense; straight-arm the biggest player; spin around defensive ends; make full-speed 180-degree cutbacks- and then turn on speed like you’ve never, ever seen. Then, see him matter-of-factly flick the football to the referee in the end zone, with a nod or simple finger wag.

Then watch him do it again, and again, and again. In between, you might note that he is San Diego State’s most productive receiver, too.

To say Pumphrey has had ANYTHING easy would be a fallacy of titanic proportions. To say he hasn’t faced intense competition, or has been fed the ball egregiously is wrong. During an Aztecs game, you would note that Rocky Long often sat Pumphrey on the sidelines for entire quarters, while Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington suited up to carry the load- and did they ever.

You would note that Pumphrey was the focal point of every team that believed he was THE linch pin to the entire success of the Aztecs, forcing him to manipulate through double and triple coverage.

You’d see Pumphrey get targeted full-speed in the head by some San Jose Spartan who was probably instructed to stun him- only for Pumphrey, shake his head, slightly dazed- to then rush for a touchdown on the very next play.

Then, you start to get it. Donnel Pumphrey is some kind of meta-human. Sportscasters compare some of his play actions to video game moves. Pumphrey doesn’t get injured. He has extreme toughness. Pumprey doesn’t get stopped by the biggest players.

Somehow, he plays with the force and power of a 250-lb back. Only, he is light-and-sure-footed enough in his modest frame to move with the agility of a high-speed acrobat.

Finally, against all odds, and in front of his family and friends in his own hometown --where it all began -- during the fourth quarter of his very last game, against one of the fiercest rushing defenses in FBS football, Donnel Pumphrey completes an incredible college career, surpassing the great Ron Dayne as the all-time NCAA career rushing leader.

This isn’t incredible: this is IMPOSSIBLE.

The willpower that Donnel Pumphrey displayed: the focus and positivity he exhibited after being sleighted by a Heisman committee who, instead of including him added a SECOND Oklahoma player to their exclusive dinner; the resolve he continued to exhibit after being passed over for the Doak Walker by D’Onta Foreman, and the general ongoing chatter about whether he could even manage in the NFL- never stopped him in his march toward football immortality.

For the record, Pumphrey passed 2016 Doak Walker trophy winner Texas’ D’Onta Foreman as the nation’s leading rusher this season with 2,133 yards. Pumphrey’s productivity in fact helped his team reach a championship and a bowl game.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on this prolific footballer’s San Diego State University career accomplishments. What he achieved is truly, truly special.

List of Donnel Pumphrey’s career accomplishments for San Diego State:

  • Only NCAA player ever to amass 5000 rushing yards 1000 pass yards
  • Only NCAA player ever to amass 6000 rushing yards 1000 pass yards
  • #10 all-time NCAA single season rushing yards 2,133
  • #9 (tied) all-time NCAA touchdowns with 67
  • #5 all-time NCAA all-purpose yardage with 7,515
  • #1 all-time NCAA career rushing leader with 6,405

Newly-updated official NCAA list of Top-10 career rushing leaders:

1. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State (2013-16), 6,405

2. Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99), 6,397

3. Ricky Williams, Texas (1995-98), 6,279

4. Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh (1973-76), 6,082

5. DeAngelo Williams, Memphis (2002-05), 6,026

6. Charles White, Southern California (1976-79), 5,598

7. Travis Prentice, Miami (Ohio) (1996-99) 5,596

8. Cedric Benson, Texas (2001-04), 5,540

9. Damion Fletcher, Southern Mississippi (2006-09), 5,302

10. LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU (1997-2000), 5,263

It’s notable that, in his senior year, Pumphrey rushed for 100-plus yards in 11 games, including four of more than 200 (and one for 198). He finished the season with an SDSU record 2,133 yards in the most prolific year of his career.

As a testament to Pumphrey’s selflessness, teammate Rashaad Penny rushed enough to amass 1000 rushing yards this season, making San Diego State the first NCAA football team ever to have two backs achieve 2000 and 1000 yards in the same season.

Donnel Pumphrey completes his college career as the most prolific Aztec footballer ever. He has joined the ranks of Marshall Faulk in the halls of SDSU football greats.

For what he has done, San Diego State University ought to erect a statue on university grounds commemorating Donnel Pumphrey. He is a true testament to excellence, resolve, humility, teamwork and sportsmanship. He has brought the national prestige of being #1 to our great university, and he should be honored for it.

Donnel Pumphrey has beaten all odds, and he did it his way.