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Chuba Hubbard's sudden star turn came from everyday work

Chuba Hubbard and his Jugs machine

CHARLOTTE — Over the last few weeks, we've seen what Chuba Hubbard can do when he gets consistent carries.

But it's the thing few people see that might speak more eloquently about how he's prepared for this opportunity and why those around him are excited that he's getting the chance.

Hubbard's having a moment, but it's built on a series of small moments every day that have gotten him to this point.

He's out there doing meticulous work on the thing he's not best at in an effort to improve, and that's the kind of thing that attracts attention from teammates and coaches.

"He's 100 percent a leader; that's how we look at him is 100 percent leader," running back Raheem Blackshear said. "A guy who wants to get great at everything you do.

"It's beautiful to see him; he's winning the moment. That's one thing we always talk about. Sometimes, you wait your turn, and when you get your chance, make sure you make it count. He got his chance to make it count, and he's making it now, and people are making some noise for my boy."

The runs have been sensational, especially his 104-yard, two-touchdown day in Tampa. But it's not necessarily the runs that have earned him this kind of acclaim, they're easy to see. The work he puts in after every practice, and hours before every game have prepared him for this.

When Hubbard arrived here in 2021, he was good at explosive runs but less good at catching the ball out of the backfield. Simple dump-offs were sometimes an adventure, and when you're paired in the backfield with a Christian McCaffrey, the contrast makes it more jarring. But rather than sulk about his struggles as a pass catcher, Hubbard addressed the problem in a more mature way, by putting in hours and hours of rote work to get better at it.

Hours before every game, Hubbard's going through a meticulous workout with the Jugs machine. Someone from the equipment staff fires balls at him for extended stretches because Hubbard wants to improve at a thing he hasn't always been good at.

Chuba Hubbard and his Jugs machine

"I mean, obviously, I've worked my best to be an all-around back, catching the ball, running the ball, and that's just something I've developed since my rookie year," Hubbard said with a shrug when asked about the habit. "It's just what you focus on. I pride myself on focusing on the little things and the details. So I try to catch as many perfect balls as possible. It's not really about the amount of balls I'm catching; it's not like, let's go catch 50 balls.

"It's just like I want to feel comfortable; I want to feel good that I caught every single angle, every single ball at a good angle. That's when I just say that's good for the day. So just really focusing on making every rep perfect."

It's not glamourous work since it happens before fans get into stadiums or when most of his teammates have left him after each practice.

But tight end Tommy Tremble, his draft classmate, is there with him every day after practice, the two of them working together while they waited for their chances. Some days, it's 30 minutes; some days, it's as many as 50, but Tremble and Hubbard have been joined together in the pursuit. Tremble said they "dabbled in it" as rookies but have since committed to making it a daily thing.

Chuba Hubbard, Tommy Tremble

"It was really just knowing that you have to try to chase perfection to get better," Tremble said. "You can come in here thinking you're a pro and stuff like that and like, I just need to catch one or two. But making sure even if you catch a ball, making sure it's perfect. We would always talk coming out of the games because we'd be so nervous and try not to mess up. And then we just said F it, put balls to the wall, and just do everything we can.

"And that was one of the things. I'm going to hit Jugs every single day, not once a week, not twice a week, every single day. And that's what really harped into it. And once you do Jugs every single day, then it's like even if he caught a crazy catch, but it wasn't perfect, catch it again. Catch, repeat; it could be one time or 10 times before you catch it perfect on that side. Then you do it on the other side.

"I think being a perfectionist about that stuff is really what helped elevate his game, especially in catching receiving game, to a new level."

He's continuing to develop in that area and has a career-best 30 receptions already this year. It's not an every-down thing because he's still mostly a physical runner, but it's a sign of growth in him that's easy to see. He's taken an area that may have been a liability at one time, or at least not a strength, and become proficient at it. That kind of time on task and dedication matters and the habits can help you improve in other areas as well.

His partner sees it best and saw it from the start of OTAs under a new coaching staff.

Chuba Hubbard

"We were just thinking about what we were, what our position on the team was, what our just role would probably be, and just not just accepting it but accepting the work it would take to overcome that," Tremble said. "It just became a staple that nothing is secured. Like, even though I had a pretty good year, my first or second year, he's thinking that no matter what, everyone's always out for your job, and he's got to be perfect to try to keep to elevate his status on the roster, elevate all that stuff and he's done that man. He's been committed.

"I think the biggest thing and the hardest thing is consistency, and he's consistent every single day. It's really hard to do that, but he's committed to that man. He loves this game."

That kind of everyday effort is why people describe him as a leader, which is not a thing anyone expected. But when you work every day to improve on your weaknesses, that gets recognized by your peers, who are the ones to make that distinction.

And again, the main part of his job is running, especially the way this season has gone. He's gotten 48 carries in the two games since the coaching change and has 191 yards and two touchdowns. He had 118 carries for 453 yards and two touchdowns in the first 11 games.

Chuba Hubbard

"Obviously, I think anytime you have success as a player or coach or anybody in life in general, your confidence grows naturally," offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said. "But Chuba has always been a very confident individual, which is one of the many things I love about him.

"But I think it definitely has, with him being able to continue to be consistent, continuing to put himself in the spot from a work ethic standpoint and perform well on game days. And also just leadership-wise, he has been awesome."

Hubbard becoming a trustworthy receiver might not have been anything anyone expected. Or him becoming a leader.

But he went about becoming those things in the only way you can, by doing the work every day, not knowing when the moment might come. That way, he's ready for it when the moment arrives.

Chuba Hubbard

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