The Rise of John Hubert

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 24: Running back John Hubert #33 of the Kansas State University Wildcats runs for a touchdown against the Miami Hurricanes September 24, 2011 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. KSU won 28 - 24. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

One fun way to chart John Hubert’s surge from redshirt freshman nobody to starting running back is to go Jeopardy-style, taking the journey from past to present with questions where John Hubert is always the answer.

This time last year, it was the rare question: Who is K-State’s 3rd string running back?

After William Powell’s injury, we got to a slightly more frequent, but no less insulting, question: Why doesn’t Daniel Thomas ever take any plays off?

Somewhere around the spring game, the question became one that came with a little bit of respect: How is it possible that Bryce Brown won’t be the starting running back for Kansas State next season?

At long last, probably not until the game against Kent St., or possibly even Miami, Hubert became the definitive answer for the question: Who is Collin Klein handing off to this week when we need to mix up the running game? 

And yet, even though he’s made it that far, it would still be nice to reach two more questions: Who is K-State’s best runner? And of course: Who do you want to be the starting running back?

Last season, Hubert got all of 28 yards on 12 carries, and 19 of those yards were gained on a night in Manhattan Lawrence when the Kansas defense had already rolled over and died.

For the Jayhawks left standing, I imagine the difference between trying to stop DT or Hubert was something like the difference between trying to stop a freight train and a child’s Thomas the Tank Engine playtoy.

For me, at least, handing him the ball was the equivalent of watching Luis Colon shoot a jump shot outside of about eight feet away from the basket. My instinct was to yell "NOOO!" any time it happened.

Like the rest of you, then, I was pleasantly surprised to see him taking advantage of huge holes and running for big yardage at Miami.

I was even more pleased to see him working through a crowd to get to the endzone in that game, or driving forward for 2 or 3 extra yards on several plays last week.

On the other hand, he leaves a lot to be desired. Anyone who says they didn’t watch those long runs and think to themselves about the touchdown that could have been with a little more speed is just lying to themselves.

The yards per carry average of 4.3 without the two 47-yard runs is a lot better than I expected when I looked that stat up just now and really quite acceptable, but it’s a little disappointing after two years of DT.

This is not a running back who is capable of going for 234 or 269 yards, unless he’s playing Kansas. Then again, Furnace might be able to break 200 yards against the 11 guys who try to defend the run for the Jayhawks.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to watch Angelo Pease out of the Wildcat and sometimes wish that he got more carries.

And no, I’m not even going to mention that other guy right now.

All things considered, though, I’m only a little frustrated to see Hubert in K-State’s backfield the majority of the time.

That’s a huge improvement from the anger I felt at the beginning of that season, and large parts of that frustration stem from an unfair comparison to past K-State backs, and the strong desire to find someone who can take more of the load off of CK’s remarkably strong shoulders.

As usual, maybe Bill Snyder knew what he was doing all along. It certainly didn’t seem that way at the time.

It’s quite interesting, and perhaps instructive, to briefly look back at scouting reports like this one from ESPN for Hubert, even if you’re like me and don’t have Insider access to read the whole thing.

The critiques are the same ones we’ve been saying amongst ourselves here at BOTC.

He’s too short. Too slow. Lacks explosiveness.

That single-season city of Waco rushing record that he broke his senior season, which was previously held by some guy named LaDainian Tomlinson? That was just a mirage. No way this kid is a big-time college back.

Hubert’s hometown school, a Baylor team that had won 10 conference games in the last 7 years, didn’t even bother to offer him a scholarship.

Hubert’s best offer outside of Manhattan came from Houston, who you’ll recall never was mentioned in the same sentence as the words "BCS conference" in those innocent days where all we talked about during football season was football.

If you would have told the scouts who rated Hubert as a two-star prospect that he would become a starting Big 12 back in three years and would rush for 166 yards at Miami for a team without much in the way of a passing attack, they probably would have asked you what you were smoking. But here we are.

In that sense, he’s already exceeded expectations.

Even better, all reports indicate that he’s the type of team player who will do just about anything his coach asks him to do, the type of guy who you can’t help but root for. Kind of like Collin Klein, actually.

Now, since the only competitive football I ever played was intramural flag in college, I don’t know a whole lot about football X’s and O’s, or the vision it takes to read your blocks, or any of that technical stuff.

But based on perception vs. reality in high school, and now in college, I’m guessing that rating Hubert’s running back IQ as merely "above average" is doing him a considerable disservice.

At the end of the day, the guy it looks like we all need to come to terms with as our starter has plenty of work left to do before we can anoint him as a good Big 12 running back, or even the best running back on the team.

Maybe the best compliment I can give him is that he's become the answer to the question: Who is most deserving of an opportunity to see if he can produce at a Big 12 level, regardless of how flashy he looks doing it?

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