SDSU’s Donnel Pumphrey: Football and fatherhood

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SDSU’s Donnel Pumphrey: Football and fatherhood

by Ryan Posner, Assistant Sports Editor

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There’s more than what meets the eye when it comes to San Diego State’s 5-9, 185-pound junior running back, Donnel Pumphrey.

Yes, there’s the running back that was out-rushed by only Melvin Gordon (University of Wisconsin) and Tevin Coleman (Indiana University) last season, who were both taken in the NFL Draft and are listed as starters on their respective teams.

There’s also the man who became SDSU’s all-time single-season rushing leader last season with 1,867 yards, breaking the record held by George Jones since 1995.

Not to mention, almost every college football media outlet predicts Pumphrey will finish as one of the best players in the Mountain West — and country — this season.

“It’s pretty awesome just to see your name up with those guys in the top five last year,” Pumphrey said. “It just shows how we run the ball and how our offensive line worked hard all year. They were able to open up a lot of holes for me.”

It wasn’t always smooth sailing, though, for the man affectionately named “D.J.”

While a senior at Canyon Springs High in Las Vegas, Pumphrey received news that drops parents’ guts to the floor and can change a life in one second.

He was going to be a father.

“I was scared out of my mind,” Pumphrey said, now able to smile about it. “When my mom and dad first found out they were pretty angry at me.”

Instead of dodging would-be obstacles like he’d been so accustomed to doing on the football field, Pumphrey knew he had to tackle this issue straight on.

SPORTS_Pump_MW

Even though his parents were initially upset with him, they eventually came around. Pumphrey said he also received a lot of support from his friends in high school.

Luckily, he also had a strong connection with his high school coaching staff, which taught him how to be a father rather than how to evade a linebacker.

“They were just telling me you have to be there for her and that you’re not just working for yourself anymore, you’ve got to work for her too,” Pumphrey said.

Fast forward to Nov. 2, 2012, and Pumphrey’s life would be forever changed.

Donnel and Maliya

The idea that had once scared Pumphrey out of his mind had now become one of his greatest blessings.

Pictures of him and his daughter, Maliya, can be seen scattered all over his Instagram account and he will occasionally write her name on his eye-black to keep her close during games.

Keeping her close isn’t easy, considering that his daughter lives back in Las Vegas.

“Sometimes I get emotional about it, but I have to stay strong for her,” Pumphrey said. “I love her to death. It’s hard not being there every day.”

Although he’s only able to talk to her several times a week when her mother is available, Pumphrey cherishes the moments when Maliya is able to come to Qualcomm Stadium to watch her dad do what he does best.

Pumphrey’s mom, who was angry when she first heard that her son was going to be a father, now comes with Maliya from Las Vegas to watch almost every one of his home games.

“The first game that she went to I actually started to tear up because I didn’t know that she was going to be there,” Pumphrey said.

Naturally, his daughter and mother sit near the end zone, a perfect place to sit to see Pumphrey on a regular occasion.

“I know exactly where they’re sitting,” he said. “It just gives me that little extra motivation to score a touchdown and see (Maliya) having a good time.”

Even though Pumphrey knows he’s no longer providing for just himself, he’s not letting the possibility of entering the NFL Draft next season wear too much on his mind.

Historically speaking, recent Aztec running backs like Adam Muema and Ronnie Hillman have elected to enter the draft a year early.

Neither of those guys put up the kind of numbers Pumphrey did his sophomore year.

“The NFL will be there when I’m ready for it. I’m not really thinking about that very much yet,” Pumphrey said. “I’ve been able to make it through these last three years. Right now, I’m honestly just focused on this year.”

Still, though, the man who carries the Aztec offense week in and week out must rely heavily on his support system to help him cope with the distance from Maliya.

Hunkie back to help

One coach that helped guide Pumphrey through the early trying times was his high school head coach Hunkie Cooper, who was hired on as SDSU’s wide receivers coach this offseason.

Cooper had tried to keep the news of his hire a surprise to Pumphrey, but the cat was out of the bag when Pumphrey attended a ceremony in Las Vegas where Cooper announced he would be coming to SDSU.

“I was lucky enough to coach (Pumphrey) in high school. It’s tough to find guys like him,” Cooper said.

Pumphrey was ecstatic at the prospect of having one of his greatest mentors at his disposal on a daily basis.

“He was one of the first people I told (I was going to be a father) back in high school,” Pumphrey said. “Whenever I needed something he was there for me. He was like a father figure.”

Knowing Pumphrey for so long, Cooper is well aware of what kind of a football player he is. But he also knows Pumphrey’s mentality off the field.

“He’s a hard worker who goes about his business the right way,” Cooper said.

While his family may not all be in San Diego, Pumphrey had a substantial support system to get him through the last three years.

He has his mom and two brothers in Las Vegas, his father’s side of the family in Los Angeles and his mom’s side, who lives in San Diego.

This system is the reason Pumphrey is able to go out every weekend and remain the top-tier running back he is, even though his life is more complex than most know.

It’s the same system he’s relying on to help him bolster what is already one of the all-time greatest careers for an Aztec running back.

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