SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For John Hubert, this season felt like a game show.
Every time the senior running back took the field he was unsure whether he would be the focal point of Kansas State’s offense or a bystander. There were games when he touched the ball 30 times, like when he rushed for 220 yards against Kansas. And there were games when he touched the ball six times, like when he rushed for 25 yards against TCU.
It seemed as if he was spinning a giant wheel that kept landing on New Car or Bankrupt.
“It’s been frustrating,” Hubert admitted Thursday at a news conference leading up to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. “I am upset a lot. I want to say something, but I don’t want to be that selfish guy. So I just try to be a team player.”
Some will describe Hubert’s final season at K-State as a roller coaster, because of its ups and downs. But there are better comparisons. Hubert was strong from start to finish, averaging 5.3 yards per carry while gaining 968 yards. He produced at a high level when called upon.
When coaches gave him 15 or more carries, he averaged 109 rushing yards and K-State went 6-1. When coaches asked him to block or watch from the sidelines, he averaged fewer than 24 yards and the Wildcats went 1-4.
Through it all, Hubert has remained well within striking distance of his first 1,000-yard season.
“That just says a lot about him,” senior receiver Tramaine Thompson said. “You never hear him complain or say anything about his situation, even though he is a productive back who could easily be, in my mind, a 2,000-yard rusher if someone gave him the carries.
“He’s a hard-runner. He is going to do everything he can with his opportunities and be productive. He is one of the nation’s top running backs.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder has also been complimentary of Hubert. He praised Hubert in front of the team following a victory over Kansas, and on Thursday he said he admired Hubert’s consistent approach.
“He has just begun to run more aggressively,” Snyder said. “Sometimes running backs try to make everyone in the room miss. You need to get your pads down and run, and he did that. I thought that was probably the biggest part of the improvement that he made, or, at least, was the foundation of the improvement he made.”
Many expected a big year out of Hubert. The 5-foot-7 native of Waco, Texas, rushed for 970 yards as a sophomore and 947 yards as a junior. No longer in the shadow of running quarterback Collin Klein, he figured to be K-State’s new dominant backfield option.
He openly listed 1,000 rushing yards as his top preseason goal, and with 32 more in his final K-State game he will get there.
“That would be a dream come true,” Hubert said. “I have wanted that since I became the starting running back here, for the last three years. This is the closest I have ever been.”
Still, he didn’t surpass quarterback Daniel Sams as the team’s leading rusher until late in the season. Midway through the year, it didn’t look like he would reach 750 yards.
Perhaps he tried to do too much at times or became out of sync with his offensive line. It’s also possible coaches doubted him following a 23-yard stinker on 10 carries in the opener against North Dakota State. But his season low for carries came a week after he rushed for 157 yards against Texas Tech. Maybe coaches adjusted his usage based purely on the opposing defense.
Or maybe it took a while for coaches to decide how to get all their best offensive players involved. With Sams and Jake Waters splitting time at quarterback and Tyler Lockett on his way to an unforgettable year at receiver, the Wildcats were capable of moving the ball in many ways.
“It seems like I had a down year, but if you really look at it, it’s been the same year as the last two. I just got there in a different way,” Hubert said. “It’s difficult sometimes, because being a running back you at least want to touch the ball 15 times. But we’ve got different personnel. With Jake and Daniel and Tyler we do all kinds of different things. It is hard to give everybody touches.
“We can all touch the ball and spread things out. Everyone gets their piece of the pie. I just try to play my role.”
Hubert hopes he can play a big role against Michigan at Sun Devil Stadium.
He isn’t sure where the spinning giant wheel of K-State’s offense will land on Saturday, but he is ready for anything.
“I won’t know whether I get the ball or not until the game starts,” Hubert said. “But I am excited about this one.… When I get the ball, all I am going to think about is running down hill and breaking tackles.”