SAN DIEGO -- About a year ago, San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny briefly considered jumping to the NFL early.
Penny, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season despite being the backup to the nation's leading rusher in Donnel Pumphrey, got a draft grade back that had him going higher than his more ballyhooed teammate.
Blessed with a chiseled 6-foot, 225-pound frame and receiver-like speed, he met the needs of just about any NFL team looking for a back.
But Penny wasn't convinced. He wanted to prove more to the NFL and himself. He wanted to be the guy who put the Aztecs on his back.
"I wanted people to take notice of what I could do, but also that I could lead a team in the right direction just like [Pumphrey] did," Penny told ESPN.
Penny did both.
In his only year as SDSU's starter, Penny followed in Pumphrey's footsteps by leading the nation with 2,027 rushing yards and 2,698 all-purpose yards. The senior was an All-American and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, receiving 175 points with seven first-place votes. Somehow, he wasn't a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's best running back.
That's an almost unforgivable slight for someone who ran for fewer than 100 yards only twice this season and finished the regular season with four straight 200-yard games.
"He runs with authority and passion," Stanford running back Bryce Love, who faced Penny, told ESPN. "He's getting the ball 20, 30 times a game and it seems like sometimes by the end of the game he's running the ball harder than when he started. That's the trademark of a really good back."
Saturday will give the college football world its last glimpse of Penny when the 10-2 Aztecs face Army in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (ESPN and ESPN App, 3:30 p.m. ET). He's one of the best players we probably aren't talking about enough, but here's our chance to treat our eyes at the fun that is Rashaad Penny's talents.
Cloaked with that pesky Group of 5 label, it's no surprise that Penny's collegiate career will end without the appropriate fanfare a back with more than 3,400 career yards and 34 touchdowns deserves. He shined in Pumphrey's shadow last year, but as the focal point of SDSU's run-oriented offense, he exploded to earn some national praise.
"He's a monster, dude. ... Probably one of the fastest dudes on our team -- one of the fastest dudes in the country," San Diego State safety Trey Lomax said. "He's a load for defenses to account for."
Penny made his first real statement by going nearly step-for-step with eventual Heisman runner-up Love on Sept. 16. Penny rushed for 175 yards and touchdown in the Aztecs' 20-17 upset of No. 19 Stanford. Love finished with 184 yards and two touchdowns.
"I wanted to prove to the world that I could play too," Penny told ESPN. "I know I'm in the Group of 5 and I don't get as many [national] opportunities as other people, but those opportunity games that I got, I just wanted to make the most of it. When we hear that we're playing a Power 5 team, I just wanted to prove to people that I can do the same thing that these other guys are doing."
The truth is that in today's sports climate, a real Heisman campaign was probably more of a pipe dream than a reality anyway for the Group of 5's best player.
He outrushed Love this season and he outgained Saquon Barkley, who finished fourth in Heisman voting, by 544 all-purpose yards.
He rushed for a first down 27.3 percent of the time and had a third-down conversion percentage of 51.4 -- both better than Love and Barkley.
He also bested both with 54 rushes of 10-plus yards and was two behind Love with 26 rushes of 20-plus yards.
But being the underdog is nothing new to Penny. Getting overlooked is what got him to San Diego State and will get him drafted in next spring's NFL draft.
Penny didn't start playing running back until his freshman year of high school at Norwalk High in California. Growing up in Los Angeles' Crenshaw neighborhood, he halted his football career for baseball at 6 years old when his coaches lined him up only on the defensive line.
After moving south to Norwalk, Penny and his older brothers, Robert Jr. and Elijhaa, jumped back into football in high school. After watching his older brothers dominate the ground game in Norwalk's double-wing offense, Penny captured SDSU's attention after making varsity as a 5-foot-9, 170-pound sophomore.
SDSU was his first offer and despite playing 25 minutes away from USC's campus and the Coliseum, it would be his biggest outside of Boise State.
The former three-star athlete, who made weight in high school by inhaling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and three to four gallons of milk a week, arrived at SDSU as a raw running back with zero pass-blocking skills and no knowledge of how to read defenses.
Three-plus years later, he still might not be the greatest pass-blocker, but his football knowledge has exploded and he can either bounce off defenders or bowl them over.
Being this dominant back was the last step in Penny's amateur career. He looked up to Pumphrey, who he found out earlier this year was his cousin. Penny wanted to show those inside and outside of the NFL that he could do what Pumphrey did, and maybe do it better.
And when Penny wasn't able to make plays this season, the Aztecs struggled doing much of anything. In SDSU's 10 wins, Penny averaged 190.5 yards with 18 touchdowns and the Aztecs averaged 34.8 points.
In the two losses, which knocked SDSU out of its third straight Mountain West championship game, Penny averaged just 61 yards with one touchdown and the Aztecs scored just 17 total points.
"There hasn't been a drop off at running back. ... He's probably better than Pumphrey," quarterback Christian Chapman said. "I'm serious, he's a beast. He's our guy. He starts us up and gets us going."
He's SDSU's guy for just one more game. Whether he's remembered at all in the national dialogue is a mystery, but Penny will leave SDSU as one of its best players.
He had enormous shoes to fill and his toes ripped through the soles. He had a point to prove and he did it.
"I've been doing this for almost 20 years and he's one of my all-time favorite kids," defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said.
"He's gonna make somebody [in the NFL] happy. He's going to help out some team because he's a special breed. He does things you don't coach."