San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey Jr. is the leading rusher in college football this season and fifth all-time in yards gained on the ground, as of the end of October. He’s an accomplished pass-catcher and blocker for one of the programs featured in A COACH AT HEART. He’s humble. He’s amazingly durable for his relatively diminutive stature. He makes a difference for an offense the lacks a passing threat. He’s the unquestioned leader of a team that’s 7-1 for the first time in 39 years and is one of the three non-power conference teams still in the running to play in a prestigious New Year’s bowl game.
And when the Heisman Trophy is handed out in December in New York, Pumphrey could be watching on television from home as the odd man out. And that would be a shame.
Even ESPN, an organization as responsible as any for the strange and unjust landscape of major college football, sees the light. Or, at least, Scott Van Pelt does after Pumphrey ran for 223 yards and led the Aztecs to a 40-13 road rout of Utah State in a pouring rain.
Pumphrey is not considered a front-runner for the trophy given annually to college football’s best player. But he is in the conversation, included in most analysts’ top five. The order various depending on the list you read, but the leaders would seem to be quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has led Louisville to a 7-1 record, Michigan jack-of-all-trades Jabrill Peppers, and Washington quarterback Jake Browning.
Others who could claw their way to the top — and there’s still a whole month’s worth of games remaining — include Clemson signal-caller Deshaun Watson, Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett.
A lot of big names, and they don’t even include last season’s runners-up, Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford — another A COACH AT HEART program.
So Pumphrey might not win it. For him to do so, he’d have to lead the Aztecs to a Mountain West championship and a so-called New Year’s 6 bowl while hoping the voters don’t cast their ballots prematurely. That would be an epic accomplishment — truly Heisman-worthy.
It’s a monumental task that’s ahead for Pumphrey and the Aztecs and they might come up short. If so, some of these other players will deservedly take home the hardware. Pumphrey, though, should at least be in New York, watching in person.