Hubbard on the run for Nevada

Many times last season, Nevada football coach Chris Ault mentioned that JC transfer Robert Hubbard was good enough to be getting some playing time in the Pack's backfield.

An already-crowded backfield situation would have been even more crowded with quality players. With a one-back set, there certainly wouldn't have been enough carries for three different players, and the Pack coaching staff knew that, thus the idea was scrapped.

And, Hubbard is glad it was. It gave him time to learn the system, get adjusted to college life and learn what was expected of him on and off the field.

Hubbard excelled in his first season, rushing for 593 yards (5.5 average) and eight touchdowns, including a career-best 136-yard, 3-TD effort in the 38-35 win over Fresno State. Many experts consider that win the biggest in school history.

"To be honest, yeah I'm glad I redshirted last year," Hubbard said before a recent practice for the upcoming Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl on Dec. 24. "One more chance to play with this good team; to have an opportunity to have another good season and get to another bowl game.

"I had goals coming into this year, and I set them pretty high. The success of the team is always better than personal goals."

Hubbard's season was a success, and he did it playing injured. At no time during the season was Hubbard 100 percent healthy. He suffered the entire season from a lower abdominal injury.

"It happened during practice," Hubbard said. "I'm feeling way better now. I learned how to play with an injury. I'm not the only guy out there playing hurt. Nobody is playing 100 percent. We all have little nagging injuries."

When Hubbard ran through and around the Fresno State defense, many thought it was the best game he'd played. Hubbard isn't so sure, because he had a lot of big games during his career at Diablo Valley College.

"It was one of my best," he said. "I really didn't do too much. It was a credit to the great players on my team. The offensive line opened some huge holes. All I had to do is run. It was more of a team effort."

Hubbard says it so sincerely, you just have to believe him.

"You would be surprised at the lack of confidence he has," said Jim Mastro, Nevada's running backs coach. "He has no idea how good he is, or how good he can be.

"He was the difference against Fresno State. He was the fastest guy on the field that day. It wasn't even close. We expect huge things out of him next year."

So does Hubbard himself.

"I'm really excited about it," Hubbard said. "I can't wait to be the full-time guy."

Whether Hubbard will have B.J. Mitchell's durability remains to be seen. Hubbard doesn't appear to have any concerns about it.

"I think I can carry 20 to 25 times a game," Hubbard said. "In junior college, I had a couple of 40-carry games. I think I led the state in carries. I think I'm a pretty durable guy. Whether it comes to that I don't know. We have a lot of talented backs here.

"My style has changed. I always thought of myself a tough guy. I think I ran a little bit tougher this year. You have to be a tough runner in this offense. Catching the ball and blocking, I'm light years ahead of where I was when I came in last year."

Nevada recruited just one running back, Dario Camacho, a JC transfer, who recently gave the Pack a verbal commitment. Luke Lippincott, formerly a safety, has been switched over to running back. Tim Ham and Mike Kanellis, both freshmen, redshirted this season. Kyle Eklund also returns as does Tommy Haug, who played in spot situations this year.

"Running back is the least of our concerns," Mastro said. "We wanted to sign one, whether it was a JC transfer or a high schooler, and we did that."

Mastro said Hubbard has a bright future.

"He's smart, a student of the game," Mastro said. "He understands defenses and coverages."

And, Hubbard has the vision that a good running back needs. That and his tremendous instinct enables him to see openings quickly.

"He understands how everybody is blocked," Mastro said. "He knows where his eyes need to go. B.J. was the same way. Part of it is inside. If you keep seeing it, it becomes second nature. It's not coaching. Those two (Hubbard and Mitchell) do it by themselves."

And, Hubbard is by no means satisfied with himself. He wants to improve in every facet of being a running back, and that means a lot of hard work, and Hubbard is no stranger to that.


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