Chuba Hubbard wants his standout NCAA season to send a message south of the border. Not just for himself, or for other football players, but for all Canadians who want their talent to be recognized.
Hubbard, a star running back for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, captured the Jon Cornish Trophy on Wednesday as the top Canadian in the NCAA football ranks. The honour capped a standout season for Hubbard, whose list of achievements and accolades in 2019 included an NCAA rushing title.
"You know a lot of people say 'Canadians can't do this, Canadian's can't do this, it's only Americans.' So just to see Canadians play at the highest level, it's special," Hubbard said Wednesday on a video conference.
"What we're all doing is trying to open up a gateway from Canada to the States, to show that Canadian kids, whether it's football, track, really whatever in life, you can achieve it with hard work."
The six-foot-one, 207-pound native of Sherwood Park, Alta., received 19-of-20 available votes for the award, which is named after former University of Kansas and Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish of New Westminster, B.C.
Chase Claypool of Abbotsford, B.C., a receiver with Notre Dame, earned the other vote to finish second.
The other finalists in the strong class included Oklahoma defensive lineman Neville Gallimore of Ottawa (a third-round Dallas Cowboys pick), Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke of Oakville, Ont. — who won the award the previous two years — and Oklahoma State linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga of Calgary.
Claypool and Gallimore were both selected in last month's NFL draft. Claypool went in the second round to the Pittsburgh Steelers while Gallimore was a third-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys. Rourke was a second-round selection of the B.C. Lions in the CFL draft on April 30.
Hubbard said he follows the achievements of his fellow Canadians.
"I try my best to track of all those guys like Neville, Chase, Nathan, those guys are talented. Especially to see Canadians doing great things."
Hubbard was certainly doing great things in 2019, a season that saw him compile an impressive list of statistical benchmarks and honours.
A redshirt freshman, Hubbard was the NCAA's rushing leader last season with 2,094 yards and 21 TDs, averaging a whopping 161.1 yards per game. He added 23 catches for 198 yards.
He was named a unanimous All-American selection and the Big 12's offensive player of the year.
Hubbard was a finalist for both the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and Doak Walker honour (NCAA's top running back). He was eighth in voting for the Heisman Trophy, presented annually to American university football's top player.
He was the only Big 12 player to average over 100 rushing yards per game this season. And his 2,094 rushing yards was the second-most in school history behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, who ran for 2,850 yards for the Cowboys in winning the '88 Heisman Trophy.
Not satisfied, Hubbard is looking to build on his breakout season whenever play resumes.
"This is amazing and I'm trying to take this all in, but I'm dialed in (to next season)," he said. "Last year was fun and we did a lot of great things, but I want to take it to the next level."
Hubbard made a tough decision to return to Oklahoma State this fall for his junior season instead of entering the NFL draft. He said the current devaluation of running backs factored into his decision — only one was taken in the first round — but the main reasons for his choice were personal.
"A lot of things factored into my decision. One, I wanted my degree. Two, I felt that I could get a lot better on the field. And three, I felt like I could mature off the field as a human being," he said.
"The biggest thing for me was I wanted my degree, I wanted to grow as a person on and off the field."
Hubbard said he will be "in the best shape of my life" when next season begins. However, questions remain regarding when — or if — the campaign will get started due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This has been tough for everybody. It's kind of tough because football is our life, but at this point it's kind of like just at a halt, so you don't really know what to do," Hubbard said. "But I think right now you've just got to be with your family, be safe, do whatever the medical people say to do and that's about it.
"I know the football season will resume at one point so you've just got to stay ready."
Hubbard is currently in Stillwater, Okla., after previously spending time in quarantine in Baltimore with his friend Justice Hill, a former OSU running back now with the NFL's Ravens.
"J-Hill helped me with a lot of stuff, trust me," Hubbard said. " I can't tell y'all, you'll have to see on the field. But he gave me some tips."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2020.
The Canadian Press