Hubbard has shot at Heisman Trophy with Oklahoma State

Running back Chuba Hubbard #30 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys breaks free from the Kansas State Cowboys in the second quarter on Sept. 28 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Hubbard had 296 yards in OSU's 26-13 win. BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES

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Watching my grandson playing peewee through to high school football I repeatedly saw some kid by the name of Chuba Hubbard run past him and his teammates like they were spectators who had wandered out onto the field.

Now he and those kids can grow up to tell their grandchildren that they once played against him.

“I don’t really feel like I did, though,” confessed my grandson. “I was pretty much just on the field when he ran past me a couple of times. I do remember seeing his No. 30 as he was running past, though”

On Saturday, Sherwood Park product Hubbard, wearing No. 30 for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, just ran past every running back in the history of the famed college running back football factory other than the legendary Barry Sanders.

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 it in six games. Sanders did it in five.

Sanders’ spectacular season 31 years ago is still considered one of the greatest individual seasons in U.S. college football history. That year he rushed for 2,850 yards and 42 touchdowns in 12 games and won the Heisman Trophy as the most outstanding NCAA player in the nation. He went on to become an NFL most valuable player with 10 straight seasons as a Pro Bowl player with the Detroit Lions.

Chuba Hubbard has not only put his name in the same sentence as Sanders but also another legendary Oklahoma State running back, Thurman Thomas, later of the Buffalo Bills, who also went on to be enshrined in both the college and pro football halls of fame.

While the Cowboys suffered a 45-35 loss in Saturday’s game to drop to 4-2, Hubbard came out of the weekend as the top rusher in the nation with 1,094 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Last year, as a freshman, he 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.

This year, Hubbard 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 a cameo appearance (eight carries for 44 yards) in a 56-14 win over minnow McNeese State.

Nobody else is within 200 yards of Hubbard and he has one more touchdown than anybody else as well.

The 296 against Kansas State ranked behind only Sanders and David Thompson in OSU history. The crowd gave him a standing ovation at Boone Pickins Stadium and chanted “Chuba! Chuba! Chuba!” That never happened at Emerald Hills or Strathcona Athletic Park.

Hubbard isn’t being made available for many interviews and you sense there’s a lot of Heisman image control involved with the in-house ones he’s done.

About the 296 yards against Kansas State: “Obviously the offensive line has been doing a great job. The coaches have been making the right calls. Anyone could be in there and do what I did. I’m happy to be in the position I’m in and I’m happy we got the win.”

About the fans chanting his name: “It was awesome. We have great fans. I appreciate all the love. I wouldn’t say it was just for me, I think it was for our offence, really.”

About coming to OSU and having this happen to a kid from Canada: “I’ve worked hard all my life to put myself in a good position to help my family … I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in. God led me to this destination and I’m forever thankful.”

About being in the same sentence as Barry Sanders: “I wouldn’t even say I’m close to Barry Sanders or anything. People are going a little over the top with that. I just try to give my best every single day.”

Headline in the Oklahoman: “Can Chuba Hubbard have a real shot At the Heisman?”

It’s early yet but the names under consideration appear to be Hubbard, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor and quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma and Joe Burrow of Louisiana State.

About being a Heisman candidate: “It’s cool. I’m blessed it’s happening. But I just want to win.”

It all sounds a little too programmed.

It’s only halfway through the schedule. The Cowboys have a bye this week, then finish up with Baylor, Iowa State, Texas Christian, Kansas, West Virginia and with the rivalry game at home against the Oklahoma Sooners.

Chase Avery, left, and Chuba Hubbard played football together starting at peewee in Sherwood Park. SUPPLIED

Meanwhile back in Sherwood Park, it’s halfway through the high school season and the Bev Facey Falcons are 0-5 without Hubbard after a 0-8 season last year. With him they were 10-2, 11-1 and 13-1 and three-time conference champions and two-time northern provincial champions.

What he’s done so far is a significant accomplishment for this early in his college career and a phenomenal achievement for a kid coming out of a high school in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada, where he had 6,880 yards and 82 touchdowns on 458 carries in his three seasons, setting a myriad of Metro League records.

So, what’s it like to be the guy who was head coach of Hubbard in high school, watching what’s happening now?

“It’s been unbelievable what he’s been able to do but at the same time it’s not so surprising knowing how he operated and where his dreams were at,” said Curtis Martin.

“We knew what we were getting when he was in bantam and peewee. It was a fantastic three years with him.”

The most memorable year was his senior year when the school was crawling with coaches from most of the major college programs in the U.S. In all, Hubbard fielded 24 scholarship offers with a steady stream of major U.S. college programs flying people in to Sherwood Park.

“It was crazy,” said Martin.

“It was different having coaches from Oregon, Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan and the like pop up at school. It was crazy and overwhelming and kind of entertaining, too.

“I still remember a coach from Alabama calling me while I was in the middle of teaching an English class. It was a bit of a strange phone call to take.”

Martin still keeps in contact with Hubbard, mostly by text when he’s not back in town.

“It’s beyond a former coach situation because of the stuff his family asked me to take ownership of,” he said.

Hal Souster, athletic director of Bev Facey during Hubbard’s time at the school, was also coach of the running backs when the son of Candice and Lester Hubbard arrived in Grade 10.

“I look back now at being on the field and working with him all the time and sort of marvel. It was pretty neat. I can’t believe I coached a kid like that,” Souster said.

Souster remembers when Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy showed up at the school a week before signing day when Hubbard was in Grade 12.

“It was the last week of January and he came to Sherwood Park and had dinner at Chuba’s parents house and came over to the school and we sat down and had a pretty good chat. He spent about 40 minutes with a couple of us. It was kind of a neat afternoon. He seemed like a decent guy. He said all the things that you want to hear about how he was going to look after Chuba.

“I remember one day Chuba asked me if I’d sit in on a meeting with the Michigan State running back coach because Curtis Martin couldn’t be there that day. The Michigan State coach was making a real pitch for him and told me they’d never recruited a skill position player from anywhere in Canada — only linemen from Ontario and Quebec. When I walked him back to the car he said, ‘We just think he’s going to be pretty special.’”

Hubbard’s best friend is linebacker Chase Avery, who is currently recovering from an ACL injury playing for the St. Mary’s Huskies and planning to come home and play for the University of Alberta Golden Bears next year.

“We played peewee together with the Sherwood Park Sabre Cats and bantam with the Sherwood Park Rams before we went to high school together. We always hung out going back to peewee,” said Avery.

“We were always buddies but we also had great competitions with each other. I remember in bantam the coaches would always like us going up against each other because we gave each other the best push. Sometimes it got kind of heated against each other where we kind of were hitting each other too hard but in the end we’d always be laughing and joking with each other and laughing it off after practice and hanging out.

“One thing I give him. He wasn’t always the smartest in school but once he realized where he could go he really buckled down and made sure he’d qualify for a scholarship.

“When he comes home we’re back being side by side and I train with him until he heads out again for Oklahoma. When he’s down there we mostly hook up on FaceTime.”

So what’s it like being his best buddy and former teammate throughout every level of minor football to be watching Chuba Hubbard do what he’s doing?

“It’s unreal, man. It’s honestly a dream come true even for me to see this. Since bantam, I believed Chuba had a chance to go NCAA. We all believed in him and he was like super modest. Then in Grade 10, we saw him blowing past everyone and we knew.

“Now I just tell him how proud I am after every game. It’s something special to see, especially being from Canada. It’s just super inspiring especially after getting to grow up with him.”

While OSU is protecting him pretty well right now, and it being a big deal with all this Heisman talk, Avery said it hasn’t affected anything with him and his buddies.

“He’s still super-modest. He still talks to any one of us from back home. He isn’t letting it get to his head how big of a star he actually is now. He treats everybody like he always has. I’m heading down Nov. 30 for the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game. Last year that was the first game he got in and really showcased his talent. I just can’t wait to see what he does in that game this year.”

tjones@postmedia.com

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