Aztecs’ DJ Pumphrey becomes NCAA’s all-time rushing leader – The San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego State’s D.J. Pumphrey grew up in North Las Vegas, about 17 miles from where the Aztecs played Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl.
It is an environment where dreams are dashed before they can even develop.
“The demographics for North Las Vegas are, there’s no more room for building, it’s all apartment complexes, 82 percent of the kids are on free or reduced lunches in that area,” said SDSU receivers coach Hunkie Cooper, who was Pumphrey’s high school football coach at Las Vegas’ Canyon Springs High. “Most of the kids are from single-parent homes or living with grandparents. Below poverty level. It’s the highest crime area in Las Vegas. Shootings. …”
But Pumphrey dared to dream. He believed in himself and made it a point to prove anyone wrong who doubted him.
It all paid off Saturday afternoon at Sam Boyd Stadium when Pumphrey became the NCAA’s all-time rushing leader, moving past Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne on a 15-yard run against Houston.
Three minutes into the fourth quarter at Sam Boyd Stadium, Pumphrey took a handoff from quarterback Christian Chapman and went around the right side to get the record.
Pumphrey finished the game with 19 carries for 115 yards, giving him 6,405 career yards to Dayne’s 6,397.
He took over the national rushing lead this season while he was at it, finishing the season with 2,133 yards to move ahead of Texas’ D’Onta Foreman (2,028 yards).
“To experience all this with my teammates and my family and friends is amazing,” said Pumphrey, who was named MVP in the Aztecs’ 34-10 win. “This is where it all started, so to end my college career here is amazing.”
Pumphrey had more than 100 family members — many of them wearing his No. 19 jersey — in the stands. Several of them crowded onto the postgame podium on the field to participate in the celebration while Pumphrey was interviewed by ESPN.
“It was very emotional,” Gina Padua, Pumphrey’s mother, said. “It was an amazing experience for him to bring it back home to Vegas and break this record. I’m just so proud. He never ceases to amaze me.
“He has a chip on his shoulder because people are always telling him he can’t do something. He’s always going to prove that he can. That’s just how he is.”
The record appeared out of the question after the first quarter, when Houston’s No. 3-ranked rushing defense limited Pumphrey to minus-1 yard on seven carries. Four times Pumphrey was tackled for a loss, including three straight plays during the Aztecs’ second series.
“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Pumphrey said. “They didn’t want me to break it against them. … Our offensive accepted the challenged and controlled the line of scrimmage from the second quarter until the end of the game.”
The senior found a spark in the second quarter, however, with a 30-yard run around the left side. Pumphrey gave SDSU its first lead of the game on a 32-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Then came the record-breaking run in the final period.
“It hit me at that point,” said Pumphrey, who was most emotional when his teammates congratulated him after the run. It has been a long climb.
Pumphrey was No. 74 on the career rushing list coming into the season with 4,272 yards. He passed 11 Heisman Trophy winners and six NFL Hall of Famers on his rise to the top.
The man calling the plays for the Aztecs during the game was offensive coordinator Jeff Horton, who was on the staff 17 years ago at Wisconsin when Dayne set the record.
“So here I am however many years later with a chance to see somebody break his record,” Horton said earlier this week. “I’m very fortunate. I’m glad (Pumphrey) is in our program. He’s an unbelievable athlete, an incredible player and in our minds he’s the best player in the country.”
Horton was asked to compare and contrast Pumphrey, generously listed at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, with the 5-10, 260-pound Dayne.
“Two Pumps would equal one Dayne,” Horton said. “They’re both great competitors. Different styles. Ronnie’s a different guy, obviously, but light on his feet. He had good instincts, good quicks.
“(Pumphrey) is a guy that can make people miss, he has lateral quickness and bursts. He really knows how to set defenders up when he’s running and he’s better along those ways.”
It should be noted that Pumphrey benefited in his pursuit of the record by a statistical inconsistency. The NCAA did not begin including statistics from postseason bowl games until 2002, and it didn’t go back to add in bowl stats for those who played before that season.
Dayne, who starred at Wisconsin from 1996-99, played in four bowl games, gaining 200 yards or more in three of them. He totaled 728 yards in those contests. His total with the bowl games included is 7,125 yards.
Including bowl game totals also moves Texas’ Ricky Williams (6,530) and Pitt’s Tony Dorsett (6,526) ahead of Pumphrey.
According to NCAA accounting, the top four now looks like this: Pumphrey (6,405), Dayne (6,397), Williams (6,279) and Dorsett (6,082).