THE RUNNING MAN
There’s a new star south of border ... and he may look familiar:
Edmonton’s Chuba Hubbard is on pace to challenge the legendary Barry Sanders’ college rushing records after emerging as a top Heisman contender. But if you think any of this is going to the kid’s head, think again. He says he just feels ‘blessed to be in this position’
To this point, perhaps, Chuba Hubbard has come across a little too programmed and a little too rehearsed in his limited media availabilities at Oklahoma State. But not on Thursday.
The 20-year-old Sherwood Park product has not only earned the trust of his coaches and teammates, he apparently earned the trust of his sports information director and, suddenly, the well-protected emerging superstar of U.S. college football was unveiled to an audience outside his controlled environment.
Due to “a high volume of media requests,” Oklahoma State held a teleconference on Thursday “primarily for media based in Canada” for the leading rusher in the nation and the player who has put himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
Hubbard still came across as serious and less-than-flamboyant, but at the same time, a personality was revealed and his character and substance came through.
With 1,094 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, Hubbard is not only leading the nation in rushing, he has been threatening the all-time school records of the legendary Barry Sanders at OSU. He’s run for 268 more yards than the second-place J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State.
“This has been pretty crazy and kind of life-changing,” Hubbard said, opening up right from the beginning.
“To come from Canada, obviously, this is hard to do. I feel blessed to be in this position I’m in.”
You definitely get the idea he’s not blind to how he’s becoming a household name back home in Edmonton. This is, after all, the man started and starred in his first game against the rival U Oklahoma Sooners up the road in Norman last fall and then led Oklahoma State to victory in the Liberty Bowl.
Asked about his Bev Facey high school coach Curtis Martin saying that kids in minor football in Sherwood Park are growing up suddenly wanting to be Chuba Hubbard and wear No. 30, he said that’s something to hear.
“It makes me smile to know that I’m able to do that. Growing up as a kid, I always wanted to be a great football player and a great track athlete. And I wanted to bring exposure to Canada for young kids who wanted to accomplish things whether it is football, hockey or whatever to show that anyone could do it. So that’s great to hear and I’m grateful for it.
“I always say that Canada is the greatest country in the world. I want to make them proud back home and represent that Canadian flag strong and show that Canadians can do great things. I feel like I’m definitely riding for our country,” said the Cowboys running back.
“I definitely had some CFL heroes like Adarius Bowman of the Edmonton Eskimos and all those guys. I always went to Eskimos games. But I also watched a lot of college football and NFL. I really watched it all.”
Last year, as a freshman,
Hubbard had 740 yards rushing and seven touchdowns before bursting into national prominence on New Year’s Eve in Memphis, when he rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown to lead OSU to a 38-33 win over Missouri in the Liberty Bowl.
“In those two games last year, to be able to play in big games like that really helped my confidence. To be in that atmosphere and that environment, it definitely helped me for this year.”
That said, he wasn’t going to take any bows.
“I always set my goals high and expect the most out of myself. What I’m doing right now is kind of a reflection of the whole team.”
Hubbard, coming out of 12-man, three-down, 110yard football in Canada, decided to “red-shirt” in his first year at OSU and he now looks back on that as the move that set up his current success.
“I think my red-shirt year helped me out a lot,” he said of the year spent as a member of the team other than on game days.
“Obviously, physically, it helped me out. But also, mentally, I think it helped. I got to take some times and work on the field and also off the field,” said the player who added 27 pounds from his Grade 12 year at Bev Facey.
Another decision he made was to call a timeout on his track-and-field career. He was already a world-class sprinter who had represented Canada internationally and was projected to be headed to the recently completed world championships and the coming Tokyo Olympics.
“I decided to take a break from track. We’ll see what happens next year. Obviously, I’m happy with where I’m at right now and I feel like I made the right decision as of right now. But I don’t want to say I’m completely done with track. I love both the sports.”
This year, Hubbard returned to Stillwater and ran for 296 yards versus Kansas State, 121 against Texas and 256 against Tulsa, and would have had a much larger total had he not been restricted to eight carries for 44 yards in a 56-14 win over Mcneese State, the free space on their bingo card.
Last weekend, with 156 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a conference game at Texas Tech, Hubbard became the fastest Oklahoma State running back to reach 1,000 yards in a season since Sanders. Hubbard did in six games. Sanders did it in five.
Oklahoma State has a bye this weekend at the halfway mark of their schedule. They finish up with Baylor, Iowa State, Texas Christian, Kansas, West Virginia and with the rivalry game at home against the Sooners.
Asked about a degree of difficulty involved in the remaining schedule or a focus of defensive coordinators on shutting him down, Hubbard said he’s not concerned.
“I just go play football. Every week we play great teams and, no matter what, defences are going to try and stop you. I’m just looking forward to each and every game.
“I’m just trying to concentrate on playing football and winning games. We have great guys around here to help me set up a conference call like this right now and do a great job to make sure I’m not overwhelmed by anything,” he said.
“I don’t want to focus on that other stuff. I just feel blessed to be in that position.”
He also says he doesn’t feel any wear and tear despite carrying the ball 128 times in the last four games.
“I feel good. Obviously, the bye week feels great. But this is what I’ve been working for all year. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity. No matter what my role is, whether it’s five carries, 20 or 40, I make sure I do my best with it. My body has held up well.”
Hubbard is looking to keep it rolling right through that Cowboy-sooners game at the end of November.
He’s already been informed that he will have a lot of people headed down from Edmonton.
“Yeah, definitely. It’s always good to see friends and family. I’ve got a lot of people coming. It’ll be over 10. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage it, but it will be fun. I’d be in trouble if I had to buy all the tickets.”
When they all show up, he wants them to see that what’s happening to him this year hasn’t changed him a bit.
“My mom texts me probably every 20 minutes. She’s always worrying about me. Since I was young, my parents always told me to be humble,” he said of Candice and Lester.
“That’s one thing they hold me to and that I try to hold myself to. I’m just like everybody else. I just play football. That’s the only difference.”
Oklahoma State Cowboys running back Chuba Hubbard (centre) scores a touchdown against the Texas Tech Red Raiders last week at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Inset: Hubbard coasts to victory in the men’s 100 metres for his high school, Bev Facey, in 2017. The Heisman Trophy candidate says he will have to forgo his track career for now.