LUBBOCK, Texas — John Hubert rushed for 970 yards as a sophomore. Then he rushed for 947 yards as a junior. Then he spoke confidently about his chances of finally becoming a 1,000-yard running back as a senior.
The progression seemed so logical that he listed the millennium mark as his top individual goal before the season began. But an abysmal start — 268 yards in K-State’s first five games — sucked the confidence right out of him.
The superstitious 5-foot-7 runner from Waco, Texas, stopped running with passion and K-State coach Bill Snyder publicly questioned his ability. Hubert stopped talking to the media and appeared destined for a disappointing year.
Then everything suddenly changed.
Hubert has followed a miserable five-game stretch with four straight impressive efforts. On Saturday, during a 49-26 victory at Texas Tech, he rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. He looked like a workhorse again, and played so well that he dropped by the postgame news conference, ending his season-long silence.
"I am running with great, great confidence," Hubert said. "It is very high. I just have to keep going in and looking at film and working hard in practice and keep getting better."
Hubert has played so well that his rushing total is now up to 706 yards, and, with K-State in reach of a bowl game, he only needs to average 73.5 yards the rest of the way to hit his preseason goal.
Not that he’s focused on numbers anymore.
"I’m not going to talk about that, because every time I do I jinx it," Hubert said. "We will just have to see the next couple games."
Still, Hubert did motivate himself recently by looking at his old statistics.
"It was pretty frustrating," Hubert said of his first five games. "But I was looking back on my last two years and I noticed I always started fast and then when we got to November I always die down, like I disappear. This year it is the opposite. I started slow. Now I am kicking it back up at the end of the season."
Indeed, Hubert has averaged nearly 110 yards in K-State’s past four games. More importantly, the Wildcats have a 3-1 record in those games, with all three wins coming in blowout fashion and the only loss coming narrowly to undefeated Baylor.
"It’s awesome for us," senior receiver Tramaine Thompson said of Hubert’s emergence. "We have a quarterback who can run, either one of them can do it, and we have a running back they hand off to. It makes us that much harder to scheme against. It makes us a lot more complicated and you have to work a lot harder to stop some things.
"When we didn’t have our running game going it was pretty easy to stop the quarterback run game and the pass. You hand it off to that guy and see the runs that he makes like he did (Saturday), it’s huge for us."
Offensive lineman Cody Whitehair said he enjoys blocking for him now more than ever.
Hubert’s 63-yard sprint to the end zone on K-State’s first drive at Texas Tech set the tone on a day when the Wildcats excelled on the ground.
"John is doing well right now," Whitehair said. "He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s had a couple 100-yard games now and he’s doing really well."
Hubert hopes his strong play continues. In past years, his best games came early. This year, they are coming late.
The difference: he isn’t worrying about numbers or holding anything back.
"My mentality is put the ball in my hand and let me play," Hubert said. "I was looking at the schedule and I noticed we only have (three) more games left and then the bowl game. I was like, ‘Man, it’s all or nothing.’ Now it’s just going out and giving it my all and fighting every play."