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CINCINNATI — John Rodenberg wants to set the record straight. He predicted this.
By now, you’ve surely heard the story. Urban Meyer and Kerry Coombs were at Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati — one of the top programs in the state of Ohio — where Rodenberg the is head coach when Meyer spotted a long, lengthy, 6-foot-6 athlete named Sam Hubbard playing dodgeball. At the time, Hubbard was committed to Notre Dame to play lacrosse, but after Meyer caught wind of Hubbard channeling his inner White Goodman, he wanted to see what Hubbard could do on a football field.
Then came the part Rodenberg said gets left out of the story. He told Meyer and Coombs he had a first-round NFL talent.
“You get that whole story about Urban seeing him play dodgeball, but in that story somehow I snuck it in there that he was going to be a great defensive end,” Rodenberg recalled. “As a matter of fact, I even made a prediction. I remember this because I think Urban and Kerry owe me dinner, I said he’ll be a first-round defensive end. I’m serious. I said it.”
Now, some five-plus years later, there’s a real possibility of that happening as Hubbard enters his fourth year with the Buckeyes and many believe he could be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft should he have a big season this fall and opt to forgo his final year of eligibility in 2018.
Hubbard enjoyed a dynamic redshirt freshman season at defensive end for Ohio State in 2015. He recorded 6.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss despite being a backup to Joey Bosa and Tyquan Lewis. Then, after Bosa left for the NFL, Hubbard got his first chance to start for the Buckeyes last season.
His production dipped a bit — he only registered 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss — but he didn’t necessarily play as many snaps as starters usually do as the Buckeyes also had Lewis, Jalyn Holmes and Nick Bosa rotate at defensive end. His coaches and teammates say he was a better player in 2016, too.
“He’s the definition of elite,” Meyer said of Hubbard this spring. “He’s as elite as I’ve ever been around. He’s just working and working and he shows up every day with the same demeanor. He’s the face.”
When Hubbard arrived at Ohio State as part of the 2014 recruiting class, he was without a true position. He was a high school safety, but wasn’t going to play there in college with his 6-6 frame. The Buckeyes redshirted him during his first season as they tried to find a spot for him. Hubbard played both linebacker and tight end as a freshman before ultimately finding a home on the defensive line.
The spot Rodenberg knew he’d play all along.
“Ohio State never lied to me nor Sam about where he would play. They never promised him this, this or this. I really appreciate that with Ohio State because they just didn’t know. They just knew they had a great athlete,” Rodenberg said. “ But I knew his dad, I knew his family background and I knew there was a lot of size. I knew he was going to get bigger.”
A couple of weeks ago, Hubbard was back at his old stomping grounds, the Moeller weight room, where he lifted with Rodenberg. Hubbard put up a bit more weight than he did back in his high school days; Rodenberg joked he “used to be able to keep up with [Hubbard].” That’s not the case anymore.
Hubbard said during the spring he was on track to graduate with a degree in finance, so it’s likely this will be his last season in Columbus before he moves on to the professional ranks. He’ll do so as a defensive end, the position his high school coach saw him at all along.
Rodenberg coaches at one of the top high school programs in the country so he has former players at all levels of the college ranks. But there’s something special about Hubbard, and if he does wind up becoming that first-round pick Rodenberg thought he would, that’d just be the icing on the cake.
“We have a good relationship. I have a good relationship with a lot of guys but it’s special,” Rodenberg said. “I just want to see him be successful and I want to see him reach his dreams. You want to see that for every player, but then you get that one player that does.”
“You have a great feeling for all the guys that played for you but it’s just really neat when that one guy — how many coaches have a first-round draft pick? … It feels good to see that guy make it because there are a lot of guys that don’t.”