The top 10 San Diego State football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. RB Donnel Pumphrey
The 5-9, 180-pound Mountain West superstar doesn’t seem like a monster, but he’s been one of the nation’s best running backs over the last few years. He pulled off a stunner by coming back to school for his senior season, and now he’s ready to become a national name after running for 1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns, while catching 28 passes for 416 yards and three scores. He also threw for a score.
Coming off an 1,873-yard, 20 touchdown sophomore season, and with 752 yards in his freshman year, Pumphrey is already climbing up the list of all-time rushing greats. With a 1,500-yard season, he’ll finish his career sixth all-time, and if he can really go off and run for over 2,000 yards, he’ll be in range for the No. 3 all-time spot behind Ron Dayne and Tony Dorsett.
Extremely fast, he came to San Diego State as a 155-pounder and turned into a workhorse, bulking up enough to handle the ball for 309 rushes last year with nine 100-yard games including a 181-yarder against Utah State and 154 against Nevada. With his size he doesn’t take a ton of big shots, and he doesn’t take a huge pounding for all his work. If he can stay healthy, this will be his season as the Mountain West’s signature star.
2. CB Damontae Kazee
The team’s fifth-leading tackler was as tough as any defensive back in the Mountain West making 75 stops with 58 in the open field, but it was his ball-hawking ability that made him an All-America caliber corner coming up with eight picks taking one for a touchdown. Also a top punt returner, he averaged 14 yards per try, taking one for a score.
The 5-11, 185-pounder has been a good hitter for his size, but it’s his athleticism and anticipation on the ball that makes him stand out. He started out last year with three picks in the opener against San Diego, and he kept on rolling from there doing a nice job as a run stopper throughout the year. The pros were right there for him, but he put them off a year by surprisingly returning to school.
3. NT Alex Barrett
The man in the middle of the tremendous run defense, Barrett earned all-star honors making 62 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. While he’s undersized on the nose at 6-3 and 260 pounds, he’s ultra-quick and fits what the attacking defense likes to do. He’ll get bullied from time to time by bigger blockers, but he makes up for it with his athleticism and motor. Able to play inside or out, he’s a do-it-all defender who even picked off two passes, taking one for a score. Is he the right guy to put in a phone booth? Not really, but that’s not his job. He’s a disruptive force who needs to camp out behind the line.
4. LB Calvin Munson
A big 6-1, 240-pound force on the inside, Munson is a good athlete with excellent range, leading the team with 98 tackles after making 85 as a sophomore. Devastating in the backfield, Munson came up with 9.5 sacks with 15 tackles for loss, while also picking off two passes against San Diego, taking them both for scores. Able to play inside or out, he’s best when he’s able to roam free and make things happen – he doesn’t miss a stop.
5. OG Nico Siragusa
The all-conference left guard might move around where needed, with just enough agility to see time at tackle from time to time if he doesn’t stick at his spot at guard. Going into his third-year as a starter, he’s a blaster for the running game, using his 6-5, 335-pound body and frame to blot out defenders and be the crusher who paves the way for Donnel Pumphrey. Last year it was Darrell Greene and Pearce Slater on the left side taking the starring role, but this year it’ll be Siragusa’s line.
6. RB/KR Rashaad Penny
Third on the team in rushing, Penny did his part from time to time taking off for 368 yards and four scores, averaging over six yards per carry. Also dangerous as a receiver, he caught eight passes for 120 yards and a score. His real worth was as a kick returner, averaging a whopping 33.5 yards per try with three scores, including a killer in the bowl win over Cincinnati. At 5-11 and 210 pounds, Penny brings a bit more thump than Donnel Pumphrey, but he can move, too. He’ll take over as the No. 2 back in the rotation.
7. S Malik Smith
A talented all-around defender who had his choice of big schools to go to, he’s been a strong defensive back for the Aztecs from the beginning. He started out his career with 76 tackles in his first two seasons, and then came last year finishing third on the team with 77 tackles with five picks and five tackles for loss. At 6-0 and 190 pounds, he’s a good-sized safety who worked at one of the hybrid Warrior spots – sort of like a free safety. The quickness is there to be a hawk when the ball is in the air and he’s not afraid to hit.
8. TE Daniel Brunskill
More of a tough blocker than a true receiver in the attack, the 6-5, 250-pound veteran started out his career as a smallish offensive lineman and turned in to a tight end. Very strong, very tough, and very good when he has to be as a receiver, he caught 10 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns as a safety valve – but that’s not his job. He’s like a third offensive tackle.
9. WR Mikah Holder
Donnel Pumphrey led the team in receptions, but it was Holder who led the way in receiving yards, catching 24 passes for 439 yards and six touchdowns. The Aztecs didn’t throw enough or do an efficient enough job, but Holder did his part averaging over 18 yards per catch. More of a big play target for one or two throws a game than a true go-to target, the 6-0, 180-pounder does his job.
10. QB Christian Chapman
It’s apparently his passing game now to deal with. Chapman took over the gig late last year and started to show a little of what he could do completing 8-of-11 passes for 113 yards and a score against Cincinnati after hitting 9-of-14 throws for 203 yards and a touchdown against Air Force in the Mountain West title game. He’s not all that big at 6-0 and 200 pounds, but he’s a good runner – taking off for 81 rushing yards in his final three games – and he has a live, accurate arm. After being thrown into the fire, he should be far more comfortable and get more responsibility.