Sam Hubbard has been a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals since he was a kid. Urban Meyer knew that when he was recruiting Hubbard to play for Ohio State, and Meyer used that to his advantage.
Before Hubbard committed to play for the Buckeyes, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis happened to be visiting Meyer at Ohio State one day when Hubbard called Meyer, and Meyer didn’t hesitate to let the recruit know who he was standing next to.
"I literally was visiting Urban up there four years ago before he enrolled, and he happened to call Urban on the phone and I was on the field with Urban, and he said, 'Guess who I’m standing here talking to. You’re going to come and play for the Buckeyes, then you’re going to have a chance to play for your hometown Bengals,'" Lewis recalled.
Hubbard did go on to play for Meyer and the Buckeyes, and on Friday, Lewis and the Bengals made the second part of that prophecy come true, when they selected Hubbard with the No. 77 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
"Talk about full circle," Lewis said in a press conference following the Bengals’ second day of draft selections on Friday.
The past two days didn’t exactly go the way Hubbard anticipated they would. Projected to be drafted as early as the late first round, Hubbard ended up falling all the way until the 13th pick of the third round. In the end, though, the outcome couldn’t have been much better, as it resulted in Hubbard getting the opportunity to play for the team he has been rooting for since he was a child.
"It’s incredible," Hubbard said in a conference call with Bengals reporters Friday. "I didn’t really see this coming, and it worked out where I get to stay at home. It’s something I never even dreamed of. Representing the city of Cincinnati like I’ve tried to do my whole life, it’s just a huge opportunity, and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got."
Hubbard, who says he went to Bengals games at Paul Brown Stadium "at least once a year" as a kid growing up, is thrilled that he will now be playing for the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium – and so is his family. By the time Hubbard spoke to reporters on Friday night, his uncle had already bought Bengals season tickets.
"I can’t believe I’m staying home," Hubbard said. "I’m just so excited and so thankful."
Now that Hubbard has the opportunity he has been dreaming of since he was a kid, he wants to make sure he takes advantage of it.
"What I’m going to do is, I’m going to keep my mouth shut and go hard and work my (rear) off to show I’m here to play, and I’m here to contribute," Hubbard said. "I’m going to listen and try to do whatever I can to help the team and contribute to that defensive line room."
“It’s something I never even dreamed of. Representing the city of Cincinnati like I’ve tried to do my whole life, it’s just a huge opportunity, and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”– Sam Hubbard on being drafted by the Bengals
Lewis is confident that Hubbard will take advantage of his opportunity, in large part because of his motor, which stood out to Lewis and convinced him that the Bengals should draft Hubbard.
"He’s been able to play hard and leave everything out there on the field," Lewis said. "If you talk to (Ohio State defensive coordinator) Greg Schiano and the other coaches up there, they talk about a guy who helped quarterback that group. All of that is appealing."
Because of his fall into the third round, Hubbard isn’t likely to be an immediate starter for the Bengals. They already have two established starters at defensive end in Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, which means Hubbard will have to compete for playing time in the rotation with 2017 third-round pick Jordan Willis and fourth-round pick Carl Lawson. But Hubbard says he is excited to be a part of the Bengals’ young core at defensive end while also learning from their veterans at the position.
"(Willis and Lawson) both played really well (last season), and I want to come in and do the same thing," Hubbard said. "I want to learn from the older guys and be part of that young, new group to take the franchise to the next level. I’m excited to play with some great players."
Lewis said Hubbard gives the Bengals "the opportunity to put more people up front on the defensive line, and to continue with that rotation."
"Sam helps us fill a spot with a young guy with athleticism who plays extremely hard all the time," Lewis said. "He gives us the opportunity to move forward."
Ultimately, Hubbard is likely to see a little bit of playing time on defense as a rookie while also contributing on special teams. Hubbard, though, isn’t worried about trying to achieve any individual statistical goals next season. Instead, the Cincinnati product – who won back-to-back state championships in his final two seasons at Archbishop Moeller High School before winning a national championship as a redshirting freshman at Ohio State – has his sights set on eventually helping the Bengals hoist their first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
"I’ve got a state championship here in Ohio, and I’ve got a national championship. The last thing I need is a Super Bowl, and I’m committed to doing everything I can to make sure that happens here in Cincinnati," Hubbard said.