MANHATTAN — He has never been the fastest guy on the team. He has never been the strongest guy on the team. And he has definitely never been the biggest guy on the team.
Still, John Hubert has always found a way to produce on the football field.
The 5-foot-7, 191-pound senior is entering his third straight year as Kansas State’s starting running back, and he has a pair of 900-yard seasons on his resume. Hubert has surprised many, both with his success and running style. You see, he isn’t fast enough to break away from defenders on the outside. Nor is he big enough to overpower linebackers between the tackles. Yet, his agility and vision allow him to gain yards in both areas.
K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel thinks he came up with the perfect nickname for Hubert: The Stray Cat.
“He’s so feisty. He’s a tough son of a gun,” Dimel said. “His littleness in stature helps him for some of the things that he does, because of his low center of gravity. The negative is his ability to pass protect and hold up in those situations, but he plays with such a chip on his shoulder, and plays with such an edge to him that he gets things done.
“We run him in our quarterback run game. We will be in there on quarterback powers and here comes John Hubert leading up in the hole, which is a role you would never expect from a 5-7 guy. He plays with a lot of toughness and stature to him … I call him The Stray Cat. He kind of just finds a way to survive. He’s always been a survivor. That’s what he is for us. I love him.”
Whatever you call him, Hubert is a proven all-purpose back. So maybe it’s time to take him seriously when he says he’s capable of more.
“I have great expectations for myself, higher than you might expect,” Hubert said. “We have all five of our starters back on the offensive line and they all know me and how to block in our system. I’m really looking forward to this year. The running game should be great.”
Indeed, with K-State adjusting to a new quarterback after the departure of Collin Klein, Hubert will be asked to carry a bigger load this season.
He is up for the challenge. As a high school senior in Waco, Texas, he set rushing records by running for nearly 3,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. He has the confidence and desire to once again be a workhorse runner.
His challenge is consistency. That’s something he has never shown at the college level. Sure, he’s rushed for as many 166 yards and scored as many as four touchdowns in games, but he has also been a non-factor, especially late.
As a sophomore, he raced to 637 yards in his first six games only to average 55.5 yards the rest of the way and missed out on a 1,000-yard season. As a junior, he had 527 yards through five games, but once again suffered a late-season decline, finishing with 947 yards.
Those extended slumps raise several questions about Hubert’s stamina and durability, but Hubert shrugs them off.
“There’s really, I guess, no reason for why that happened,” Hubert said. “It’s just the back end of seasons, when I look back on some things, I see things I should have done differently. If I would have cut this way or cut that way I would have gotten a few more yards. It’s just little things.”
Hubert wants to go out with a 1,000-yard season.
He will have the opportunity. He is sure to receive more carries and will be a focal point on offense. He also says he is in the best shape of his life. Though Hubert did not play in K-State’s spring game, because of an unspecified injury, he took advantage of the rest of his offseason.
Hubert is trying to downplay the 1,000-yard milestone, saying he might curse himself by boldly listing it as a goal. But make no mistake, The Stray Cat is tired of coming up short.
“After five long years, it’s time to step up,” Hubert said, “I always like rising up to the challenge and the occasion. It’s my last year. I want to go out with a bang.”