On New Year’s Day, at 8 p.m., Sherwood Park’s Chuba Hubbard landed in Edmonton, a certified U.S. college football star.
On New Year’s Eve, in Memphis, Hubbard rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown to lead Oklahoma State to a 38-33 win over Missouri in the Liberty Bowl.
Hubbard returned home a significant name in the U.S. college game — suddenly a starter and a star with his sophomore, junior and senior seasons ahead.
There are even some people wondering if the Cowboys have another Barry Sanders or Thurman Thomas to watch for the next three seasons at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, OK.
It was just the other day that he was a kid running through and around my grandson and his teammates like so many pylons in bantam and high school football in Sherwood Park. He was good. But a kid from Sherwood Park a certified U.S. college football star?
His mom and dad, Candice and Lester, watched the game back home.
“It was pretty emotional. It was pretty amazing. All the parents from Bev Facey were texting throughout the whole game. It was so wonderful,” said Candice, her voice breaking.
She said it wasn’t lost on them how that performance took their son to a whole new level in his career.
“It’s pretty amazing. It’s overwhelming, honestly. We’re so proud of Chuba. He really had an amazing game. He started the year down the depth chart. But he made the most of every opportunity and just stepped into the role and made it happen.
“We talked to him on the phone for a couple minutes after the game. We told him how proud we are of him. He just said it was for me and for his dad.
“We’re so happy to have him home for two weeks. We only had him for two days at Christmas. He had to leave Christmas Day. It was really quick but we were really happy to have him home then,” said his mom.
Hubbard, 19, said he’s going to enjoy every minute of it.
“I’m going to enjoy my family, my friends and the snow,” said the player who went to Memphis’s famous Beale Street to party with his teammates after the win but went back to the hotel early.
“I was pretty sore,” he said.
Hubbard flew from Memphis to Houston to connect to Edmonton and had a long travel day to contemplate what happened to him.
“It was a great feeling. It was an awesome team win.”
The way his freshman season started after red-shirting last year coming out of Bev Facey, Hubbard didn’t exactly see it ending quite this way.
“I was probably tied for third string,” he said. “I just told myself that nothing good comes easily so I just worked as hard as I could. I got a few opportunities to play some first string and made the most of them.”
Hubbard got a chance to play in the big rivalry game against the Oklahoma Sooners due to injuries, and scored three touchdowns in a 100-yard rushing game and followed through with another 100-yard game against West Virginia.
With starter Justice Hill joining the growing trend of players choosing to skip bowl games to avoid injury and prepare for the NFL draft, Hubbard got the Liberty Bowl start and stepped in and had his huge game.
“I consider myself to be blessed and really fortunate to be in the position I’m in,” he said.
A starting running back in NCAA Division I football headed into in his sophomore season?
“It’s looking like that,” said Hubbard.
“Established as being among the Big 12’s better skill-position players returning for the 2019 season, Hubbard closed the 2018 season with 740 yards and an average of 6.0 per attempt,” wrote Bill Haisten in the Tulsa World.
Rushing for 145-yards in a bowl game is a significant accomplishment for a freshman. It is a phenomenal achievement for a kid coming out of a high school in Sherwood Park, AB, Canada.
Thurman twice had 100-yard bowl games and Sanders had one — one that remains as the OSU record at 222-yards from the 1988 Holiday Bowl against Wyoming.
The Liberty Bowl was a game now-retired Facey athletic director Hal Souster figured might one day happen for Hubbard, who had 6,880 yards and 82 touchdowns on 458 carries in his three seasons at Bev Facey, setting myriad Edmonton Metro League records.
In all, Hubbard fielded 24 scholarship offers with a steady stream of US college programs flying people to Edmonton to talk to the kid.
“I remember one day Chuba asked me if I’d sit in on a meeting with the Michigan State running back coach because our coach, Curtis Martin, couldn’t be there that day,” Souster recalled Tuesday. “The Michigan State coach was making a real pitch for him explaining that they had never before recruited anybody from western Canada and they’d never recruited a skill position player from anywhere in Canada — only linemen from Ontario and Quebec.
“When I walked him back to his rental car he told me: ‘We just think he’s going to be pretty special.’ ”