MOBILE, Ala. — Donnel Pumphrey knew the question before it was even asked.
The San Diego State running back and all-time leading rusher in NCAA FBS history knows his slight frame has NFL scouts, coaches and executives wondering one thing: Can he pass-block? But Pumphrey (5-8 1⁄4, 169 pounds) has been quick to highlight his other attributes, starting with his mental make-up.
“I have heart,” he said with a smile this week. “I’m going to hit them regardless, whether they hit me or not. I’m a football player and football’s a contact sport.”
While the Jets have spent plenty of time getting acquainted with larger Senior Bowl prospects such as tight ends Gerald Everett (South Alabama) and O.J. Howard (Alabama), outside linebacker Ryan Anderson (Alabama) and offensive tackle Antonio Garcia (Troy), they got a taste of Pumphrey’s self-confidence, too.
Two Jets scouts spent time talking to the diminutive running back after the South team’s practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Wednesday.
“They’re all interested in seeing whether I can pass-block. It’s a little disappointing, but it’s all good,” he said of his current weight. “ . . . I played at 175 pounds most of my career. But I’m excited to play at the next level.”
Louisiana Tech wide receiver Trent Taylor is technically the shortest Senior Bowl participant. He’s listed at 5-8, but is actually 5-7 5/8. But Pumphrey knows that he has a lot to prove this week as the smallest running back on either Senior Bowl squad. Nevertheless, he said the NFL scouts who have spoken to him don’t seem overly concerned about his size.
“Most guys told me that whatever size I’m comfortable with, that’s what they want me to play at,” he said of getting back up to 175 pounds. “That’s what got me to this point.”
Pumphrey likely won’t be drafted earlier than the fourth round in late April, but his South team coach, Hue Jackson, praised the running back. “He just needs to keep doing what he’s done,” the Cleveland Browns coach told AL.com. “He’s been sensational, as you can see. He’s made a lot of plays. I know a lot of people would talk about his stature, but he’s tough, he knows how to play.”
Though Pumphrey is the all-time leading rusher in NCAA FBS history with 6,405 yards, some have questioned whether the record should truly belong to him. He passed former Wisconsin standout and 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne for the top spot on the NCAA’s career rushing list with his 115-yard performance in San Diego State’s 34-10 Las Vegas Bowl win over Houston on Dec. 17. Dayne is second on the list with 6,397 rushing yards, but that total doesn’t include the 728 yards he rushed for in bowl games. (Before 2002, the NCAA did not include bowl statistics.)
Either way, Pumphrey’s not worried about whether he stays atop the list.
“Records are meant to be broken, so whoever breaks it, kudos to them,” he said. “Seriously. I honestly don’t play for records, I play to win the game. That’s what it’s all about with me.”