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JONES: Hubbard stands by choice to forego 2020 NFL draft

Running back Chuba Hubbard 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, Okla. Hubbard had 296 yards in OSU's 26-13 win.
Running back Chuba Hubbard 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, Okla. Hubbard had 296 yards in OSU's 26-13 win.

It wasn’t exactly an Academy Award type of ceremony.

And when it came time for the official presentation, there wasn’t even a Fed-Ex truck pulling up to Chuba Hubbard’s place in Stillwater, Okla., to so much as even toss the Jon Cornish Trophy on his doorstep as the top Canadian in NCAA football.

It was one of those half hour, home alone, Zoom-type of productions on the Football Canada website featuring some highlight film and commentary, eventually an interview with Cornish and then a hook-up with Hubbard sitting alone in his college residence room.

If there was ever an occasion for pomp and circumstance, this was it. It was arguably the greatest Canadian NCAA class in history — certainly in the very short history of the Jon Cornish Trophy — and it wasn’t even close.

It wasn’t expected to be close after the Sherwood Park product rushed for an NCAA high 2,094 yards for Oklahoma State in producing one of the greatest statistical seasons for a running back since the great Barry Sanders rushed for 2,628 yards at the same school in 1988. Hubbard was in the Heisman Trophy conversation all season.

The only surprise was that it wasn’t unanimous as Hubbard claimed 19 of the 20 first-place ballots.

Notre Dame receiver, a second round NFL pick, Chase Claypool of Abbotsford, B.C., received the other first-place vote. Ottawa-native Neville Gallimore, an Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman, was a third-round NFL pick. Hubbard’s OSU Cowboys teammate Amen Ogbongbemiga, of Calgary, and quarterback Nathan Rourke, of Oakville, Ont., winner of the first two editions of the award, were also involved in the final five.

The reason for ‘attending’ the virtual event wasn’t to discover the results but to have Hubbard finally available to answer all the unanswered questions he’s been avoiding since he elected not to declare for the recently held NFL draft and return to play his junior and possibly his senior year.

Hence, most of the media members on the conference call weren’t from Canada but from Oklahoma.

With that in mind, I chose to get right to it with the player OSU seems to want to keep in a cocoon despite having handled himself well in these situations in every case.

I asked the Bev Facey high school star if he would articulate what was involved in his decision to not declare for the draft and if the fact a running back wasn’t taken until the final pick of the first round justified that decision?

It came down to three things, he said.

“One was that I wanted my degree. Another was that I believed I could get a lot better on the field. And, three, I thought I could mature off the field to become a leader of the team.

“Obviously, I looked where running backs might be going but the No. 1 thing is that I wanted my degree and I wanted to grow as a person on and off the field.”

In a follow-up, I asked if he could now reflect on that decision in terms of COVID-19 and the uncertainties involved in not having an NCAA season.

“This is kind of a tough time for everybody. You kind of stay in your house and don’t know what to do. You just do what the medical people say what to do and prepare like we’ll have a football season at some point and just try to stay ready.

“I’m just getting ready and being locked in on having the season. Last year was fun but I’m just dialed in on coming back and taking it to the next level. You should see me working out. I’m crazy. I just want it to come back. I just want to run the ball. I’m excited to get back,” said Hubbard.

The scribe from Tulsa World informed Hubbard that he was listed No. 2 on the just released ESPN 2021 NFL draft projections at running back and asked for reaction.

“Obviously, the running back position has kind of been under-valued these last few years, but right now I just want to play and hopefully do great things.”

One Oklahoma TV commentator asked, with the winning of this award and everything that happened last season, the extent of Hubbard’s life has been changing.

“When I look back now, I think, man, my life has really changed. It kind of humbles you in a way. You have to kind of look at yourself and hold yourself to a higher standard and think about things like you have kids who are looking up to you.”

Hubbard made an interesting statement when the next Canadian media member finally took a turn and asked about being the flag bearer of a lot of talent from Canada that seems to be emerging now in the NCAA.

“I think it’s special to see these Canadians doing great things when there are people who say, ‘Canadians can’t do this,’ and, ‘Canadians can’t do this.’ Just to be a Canadian playing at the highest level and do great things, it’s special.

“What we’re all doing, I think, is opening up a gateway to the NCAA to show that Canadian kids, whether it’s football or track or whatever, you can achieve it with hard work.”

E-mail: tjones@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @ByTerryJones

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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