Last year, San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny rushed for 1,000 yards and hardly anyone noticed. That’s because the player he was backing up, Donnell Pumphrey, was the nation’s leading rusher who accumulated 2,133 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.
NFL scouts, however, knew the deal. Penny, a 6-foot, 225-pounder with exceptional speed, received a high grade from the league’s talent evaluators as he considered forgoing his final season of eligibility. But he felt like there was more for him to show and prove in the college game.
And in the shadows of the more ballyhooed running backs like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Stanford’s Bryce Love, Washington’s Myles Gaskin, Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Notre Dame’s Josh Adams and Wisconsin’s freshman stud Jonathan Taylor, Penny has proven to be just as good, if not better.
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Pumphrey’s was the nation’s leading rusher this year with 2,027 rushing yards and 2,698 all-purpose yards. An All-American, he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. But he was definitely slighted by not being named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, which is annually given to the nation’s best running back.
That makes about as much sense as a Donald Trump tweet, considering that he ran through defenses like a bad case of diarrhea this year and finished the regular season with four straight 200-yard games.
Unfortunately, San Diego State rarely appears on national television, so most college football fans haven’t seen him work. But this weekend, they’ll get their chance when the 10-2 Aztecs square off against Army in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday afternoon.
Despite only being a starter for one year, Penny has amassed more than 3,400 career yards and 34 touchdowns. And when the national spotlight did manage to find him, he more than proved the old Ben Franklin axiom that a penny saved is a penny earned.
When San Diego State upset Stanford 20-17 in September, he rushed for 175 yards and touchdown.
But being overlooked is something that Penny has long been accustomed to. At an early age, he focused on playing baseball while growing up in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw neighborhood. He later made noise as high school running back, but the USC’s and UCLA’s of the world never came calling. San Diego State and Boise State were the biggest schools that offered him a scholarship.
Penny took home national recognition for his performance at Arizona State.
Those big-time programs’ loss was San Diego State’s gain. In their 10 wins this year, Penny averaged 190.5 yards and scored 18 touchdowns as the Aztecs averaged 34.8 points in those victories.
The shine and accolades within the greater college football dialogue might have eluded him this year, which is a shame, but true students of the game know the deal. If you haven’t had a chance to peep his NCAA stylistics, don’t miss the opportunity this Saturday afternoon.
And if you do happen to miss it, not to worry. You’ll be seeing him on Sunday’s in the NFL soon enough.