IRVING, Texas — John Hubert says he likes to prove people wrong.
Kansas State’s sophomore running back is getting pretty good at it these days, as he nears the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.
Hubert, in his first season as a starter, needs just 67 yards against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night at Cowboys Stadium to reach the coveted milestone.
Considering where Hubert started, getting to 1,000 yards rushing this season is quite the accomplishment.
An undersized back at 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds, Hubert took hold of a job that many assumed would be handed to Bryce Brown — the former top recruit who transferred to K-State from Tennessee.
Oh how wrong everybody was on that one.
Hubert earned the start in Week 1 against Eastern Kentucky, and again in Week 2 against Kent State. Yet, K-State coach Bill Snyder wasn’t entirely ready to officially name Hubert the starter.
Then came his breakout game — on the road at Miami — where Hubert rushed for a career-high 166 yards on 18 carries, including a pair of 47-yard runs, and a 2-yard game-winning touchdown.
“The Miami game is when I realized I was the starting running back,” said Hubert, who is second on the team with 23 receptions for 193 yards and a touchdown.
As it turns out, it was also Brown’s final game as a Wildcat. The former phenom from Wichita played sparingly against Miami — giving up a sack of quarterback Collin Klein — and then left the team the next day. Brown finished with three carries for 17 yards and a fumble in two games.
But while everyone else was ready to anoint Brown the Wildcats’ top rusher before the season, K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel knew otherwise.
“I had confidence in John Hubert and some people were skeptical of that,” he said Tuesday. “When Bryce left, I wasn’t concerned.”
The reason is because Hubert showed something to Dimel the year before when the KSU coaching staff held Daniel Thomas out of scrimmages so he wouldn’t get hurt.
“John showed us a lot two years ago,” Dimel said. “We kept Daniel out of every scrimmage so he wouldn’t get hurt and John would have great numbers and big runs. So, from the get-go, our offensive staff had the confidence that John Hubert would be a good player for us.”
That made it even harder for Brown to get on the field, aside from his noted absences during the Wildcats’ summer workout program.
“When Bryce came in, in our minds, he really had to prove that he would be better than John,” Dimel said. “As that went along, it never really happened. In practices, it never happened that we said ‘Bryce is going to be better than John.’
“And when Bryce left the team, it really wasn’t, ‘Hey, we’re losing a guy that we thought would be our number one.’ That never happened.”
Yet Hubert continued to play like a man who doesn’t get any respect. That’s the only way this Waco, Texas product knows. After all, coming out of high school, the offers weren’t that great. Hubert had been recruited by North Texas, Colorado State, Louisiana Tech and “a lot of JUCOs.”
And that’s after breaking a pretty special high school rushing record in Waco — the city-league single-season rushing yards mark held by NFL great LaDainian Tomlinson. Hubert broke LT’s record with 2,524 yards and finished his senior year with 2,853 yards and 41 touchdowns.
“My grades were kind of a factor and my size and speed coming out of high school wasn’t great, but Coach Snyder always seems to offer people who don’t have all the hype as some other people,” Hubert said. “We may not be on the radar, but we’ll always work hard and give everything we have to get the job done.”
Even this season, Hubert said “some people back home” doubted what he could accomplish at K-State and in the Big 12 Conference.
“This has been a big goal for me, getting 1,000 yards this season,” said Hubert, who has averaged 5 yards per carry this season. “They didn’t think I would have as good of a season as I did. And I like to prove people wrong.”
Hubert’s 933 yards and three touchdowns is second on the team behind Klein, who has 1,099 yards and a school-record 26 rushing scores. Though somewhat overshadowed by the season his quarterback is having, Hubert is perfectly content in his standing with the Wildcats.
But, there is that difference of 23 TDs between him and Klein.
“Who wouldn’t want more touchdowns?” Hubert joked. “But if it takes Collin having 30 touchdowns or 35 touchdowns, I’m all for it as long as we’re putting points on the board and winning games.”
Hubert still isn’t the fastest guy on the field, and he certainly isn’t the biggest.
So how does he do it?
“I have good balance and a big heart,” he said. “I might not be as big or as strong or fast, but I have a big heart. In my mind, if I want something and I want to do it, then I’m going to do it.
“That’s how I was brought up. I knew if I wanted to be the starting running back, it was in my hands.”
Dimel said he prefers guys exactly like Hubert, low-to-the-ground type guys who have power in their legs.
“We like guys like that because they’re hard to see and we have big, tall offensive linemen,” he said. “I like guys with low center-of-gravity. He’s one of those guys. He’s not very high-cut, has a short inseam and powerful thighs. Those guys are very quick because they can change directions, and they’re explosive as heck too.”
And though Klein is often the face of toughness lately for this team, Dimel said Hubert has many of the same characteristics when he carries the ball.
“Like Collin, he’s played very physical,” he said. “And if you just look at John, his upper body and stature, you wouldn’t think he would be a physical player. But he has really good lower-body strength and he uses it well.
“Toughness is such a big thing to me and when I went through and evaluated all the running backs we had, he was the kid that had the toughness and I expected him to rise to the top.”