After Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard scored on the fourth-longest rushing play in OSU history, a 92-yard sprint to the end zone against TCU, OSU track and field sprints coach Giles McDonnell received a text from his friend.
“Man, that guy looks like he runs some track.”
“He’s got really good mechanics,” McDonnell said.
Hubbard is known primarily for his spectacular play on the football field, but track was his first love. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound sophomore from Alberta, Canada, started running track when he was about 6 years old.
The track coach at his school was the mother of Hubbard’s best friend, Simon. They got him to come out for track in the first grade. Hubbard didn’t pick up football until about three years later when another friend kept pushing him to come out for the team.
“My mom wasn’t having it,” Hubbard said about football. “But one day she gave in and then, yeah, I just gave it a go.”
About a decade after the first time he played the sport, Hubbard has become college football’s leading rusher with 1,832 yards to put him in the race for the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top collegiate player, as well as the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back. Hubbard looks to be on his way to a bright future in the NFL, but his path wasn’t always headed toward football.
“At one point in my life. I thought track was going to be everything for me,” Hubbard said. “I was getting pretty good at it, but you never know what can happen. I always kept football there, I always kept track there.”
“Pretty good” in track might be an understatement for Hubbard, who won the 100 meters in the 2016 Edmonton Canadian U20 Championships with a time of 10.69 seconds. He also finished fifth in the 2015 Cali AAF Youth World Championships. His personal best in the 100 is 10.60 and his personal best in the 200 is 22.07. Both times were run before he came to college.
Hubbard said he made the switch to football as his dominant sport when he left Canada for Oklahoma State.
“It wasn’t like track was over,” Hubbard said. “I was just like football took up so much time on a football scholarship. I still do track here, but football was kind of like my main thing, so I just took it as that.
“Like I said, track is still in my back pocket, so depending on what happens I’ll probably be in it next year, so we’ll see.”
Hubbard plays football with the perfect mix of speed and power. He can beat most defenders in a foot race, which is why he leads the country with 17 runs of 20 yards or more, including five games of at least one run of over 50 yards. He also leads the nation with 1,152 yards after contact.
“He’s very powerful,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “He’s highly intelligent and he has the ability to make a move five yards away from a guy and he knows how that moves ties in with his speed to where that guy can’t tackle him.”
Gundy gives a lot of credit to strength and condition coach Rob Glass for helping develop Hubbard’s football ability, but Hubbard’s track and field development also plays a significant role in his accomplishments on the field.
According to Andy Ryland, USA Football Senior Manager of Education and Training, track workouts help improve the power and acceleration needed for a football running back.
“Especially a guy like we’re talking about who specializes in the sprints, the start is so important,” Ryland said. “So having good acceleration mechanics — which is something you would learn from high-quality track coaches — allow you to accelerate with the greatest efficiency, the greatest speed, the greatest power. And obviously, this is coupled with the weight room work and maturity and all those other things.”
USA Football is the sport’s national governing body and a member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Playing multiple sports is a core pillar of USA Football’s Football Development Model, which claims to be the first long-term athlete development model in the sport’s history. Ryland said playing multiple sports as a young athlete helps further the athlete’s development.
“A wide variety of training stimuluses and experiences actually helps them to become better athletes,” Ryland said. “They develop more movement patterns, more skills, more things that they become excellent at.”
Both sports have some similar workouts. Hubbard said the sled work the Cowboys do in the offseason is similar to the sled work done in track. The sled pulls are when an athlete runs while pulling a sled with a set weight on it. McDonnell calls it resistance training. Resistance training helps with power and acceleration.
“You can come to almost any track and field practice and you’re going to see some type of resistance-type training, so like sled pulls,” McDonnell said. “We’ll do sled pulls for like 20, 30, 40 meters, and the weight is just determined by the athlete’s ability in terms of what kind of strength level they have, their body size and stuff like that.”
One of Hubbard’s strengths on the football field is how quickly he can burst through the hole and reach the secondary of the defense. Ryland said the stop-and-start nature of football makes it more of an acceleration-based game. He said the true track workout gives athletes exposure to maximum velocity training, which is when an athlete reaches their top speed.
“It’s the tide that lifts all boats,” Ryland said of max velocity. “Because if we’re able to create that kind of force and that kind of speed, we’ll become better accelerators. We’ll become better in the open field.”
Hubbard’s 285 carries is second in the nation behind AJ Dillon’s 286 for Boston College. Hubbard’s 33 touches in the 20-13 victory at West Virginia last week was his fifth game this year with more than 32 touches. The max velocity training in track has also helped with handling the workload, according to what Ryland described as the relative speed affect.
“The faster we are the less the average play is in terms of my effort,” Ryland said. “And then obviously the max speed is going to, one, help us create power as we can accelerate and create force into contact.”
“A slow athlete has to work at 70% speed to keep up with the offensive line and find the hole,” Ryland said. “A faster athlete is only operating at 60% intensity. But when they do see that hole and go to accelerate, there’s a little more gas there. ... When it is time to put the hammer down, that’s when we see guys have that extra gear because there is still room left for them to accelerate to get to that top speed.”
Hubbard has been a consistent playmaker for OSU and riding Hubbard is the Cowboys’ best chance of beating Oklahoma in the Bedlam game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
His two-sport background has prepared him for the moment. The second game of the season against McNeese State was Hubbard’s only game of the year in which he didn’t reach 100 yards. He gained 44 yards on just eight carries, but he’ll get significantly more touches against the Sooners.