2017 did not go according to plan for Donnel Pumphrey.
The former San Diego State star running back and NCAA’s all-time leading rusher was drafted in the 4th round by the Philadelphia Eagles, a last-place team looking for another playmaker for rising star quarterback Carson Wentz.
But in mid-September Pumphrey was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve with a torn hamstring so the rookie had to spend his first NFL season watching the Eagles rise to the Super Bowl without his help.
Still, walking around Super Bowl Opening Night, Pumphrey was upbeat and excited about where he was … literally and physically.
“Physically I’m great,” said Pumphrey amid the thousands of fans and media. “I’m 100% healed up and ready to attack next year. I definitely never thought I’d be here. It’s something you dream of and just to be here the first year, it’s a blessing.”
Pumphrey says he’s a better football player now, even though he still hasn’t appeared in a single NFL regular season game. He was taking advantage of what professional footballers call “mental reps.”
“I mean just being in that meeting room with (Eagles running backs coach) Duce Staley and the other running backs, just being able to pick their brains, I feel like I’m a better player. My IQ for football is unreal right now so I’m excited.”
Pumphrey will spend the Super Bowl on the sideline watching and, where he can, helping out.
“I’m just another looker, basically. Whenever the offense comes off the field I let the running backs know what they missed, like the holes, and just try to stay as helpful and useful as possible.”
So Donnel is thinking of 2017 as kind of a redshirt year. When he gets back for workouts … he hopes as a member of the defending Super Bowl champions … he expects to look like he did as a record-setting runner at San Diego State.
“I know what’s to come. I know the whole playbook in and out and by the time the off-season comes with OTA’s (organized team activities) and all that I’ll be ready to shine. You’re going to see the versatile Donnel Pumphrey I once was and a stronger and faster back that can also do it on special teams.”
Before the injury Pumphrey was working out as a punt returner for the Eagles. Perhaps he can get some return tips from former teammate and close friend Rashaad Penny, who just broke Pumphrey’s single-season program record and is one of the best return specialists in the nation. Penny tied the NCAA record with seven career kickoff returns for touchdowns and took a punt to the house the first time he ever fielded one.
And don’t for a second think that Donnel did not keep very close tabs on his alma-mater.
“I watched every game. I had to record them because being out on the East Coast I’d have to stay up until 12 o’clock just to catch the game but I had to follow my guys because Rashaad Penny did great things and I was rooting for him to break my record, which he did, and I’m just excited to see where he goes.”
Unless of course he goes to the division-rival Giants, Cowboys or Redskins. That might put a strain on their relationship.