Sam Hubbard had dreamed of playing for the Cincinnati Bengals since he was a kid.
One year into his NFL career with the Bengals, Hubbard says the reality has lived up to his expectations.
“It’s been everything I dreamed of and more,” Hubbard said. “It’s been amazing. From playing high school here, just the whole city’s been welcoming me and trying to support me, and everything’s just been really positive.”
A Cincinnati native who became a local sports star at Moeller High School before going on to Ohio State, where he was a multi-year starter at defensive end and a team captain, Hubbard quickly earned a role in the Bengals’ defensive end rotation as a rookie. He played in all 16 of the Bengals’ games last season, recorded 39 total tackles and six sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Hubbard had his first sack just two regular-season games into his NFL career, against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football, and said that served a moment of legitimation that he could play in the league.
“Our starter Michael Johnson went down with an injury earlier in the game, and I went from playing seven snaps in Week 1 to about 56 in Week 2,” Hubbard told Eleven Warriors in an interview this week. “I had my first career sack, and really felt after that game that I belong in this league and that I can play here for a long time and be successful. I think that was a big step forward for me.”
Overall, Hubbard said he believes his first season in the league “went really well.”
“I started out playing a lot of special teams and my role grew more and more on the defensive side of the ball,” Hubbard said. “I played at a lot of different positions, had a lot on my plate but really allowed myself to get comfortable on the field, doing a lot of different things and go into year two with a really good base and confidence to build on that first year.”
As a team, the Bengals went 6-10 last season, marking their third consecutive losing season and leading to the organization’s first head coaching change in 16 years. With a new coaching staff led by Zac Taylor, though, Hubbard is confident that the Bengals will win some more games this year.
“I’ve got about a month or so under my belt working with them, and it’s pretty similar to what I was used to at Ohio State,” Hubbard said. “The energy they’ve brought in and the new attitude, the winning culture they’re trying to create, I love every minute of it.”
Hubbard believes he can take his individual game to another level this year, too, now that he’s been through the rigors of an NFL season. He learned last season how tough an NFL season can be on the body, as he played in 20 total games between the preseason and regular season, but has been working all offseason – his first offseason as an NFL player – to prepare himself for the fall.
“It’s different ‘cause you don’t have spring ball,” Hubbard said. “You got a lot more time to spend in the weight room, so I was three months completely off from football where you just get to focus on getting healthy, resting and getting stronger. I’ve gotten a lot stronger, gained a few pounds and I’m really feeling good going into OTA’s as we slowly ramp up towards the season.”
Hubbard believes that will allow him to play a bigger role both on and off the field for the Bengals this year.
“From an off-field standpoint, I just want to be more of a leader on the team just because I’ve got that experience under my belt, and help create the culture that’s going to win some games,” Hubbard said. “And then on the field, I want to take a bigger role of course on our defense. Be more of a force, winning all my one-on-one matchups. It starts with that, and making plays that’ll change the game.”
“It’s been everything I dreamed of and more.” – Sam Hubbard on playing for his hometown Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals now have four former Buckeyes on their roster. After drafting Billy Price and Hubbard and signing Chris Worley as an undrafted free agent last year, the Bengals selected Michael Jordan in the fourth round of this year’s draft.
Hubbard said he is glad to have another one of his former Ohio State teammates with him in Cincinnati.
“I love having Buckeyes around,” Hubbard said. “Just because the culture I know they come from, how they compete, how they’re taught to handle their business on and off the field. I think that any addition we can get from Ohio State really does our culture as a team well and moves the program forward.”
Hubbard was back at Ohio State last month for the spring game, along with many of his former teammates and other former Buckeye players, and seeing everyone who showed up for that game – including the fans – only strengthened his love for his alma mater.
“It was pretty incredible how everybody comes back, and I think that’s just a testament to the fans, best damn fans in the land that welcome us back any time we come,” Hubbard said. “Coaching staff and the players that are always inviting us to come around, be a part of the team, be with the guys. And there’s no place like Columbus, and I get back every chance I can.”
Hubbard has also maintained strong ties with Moeller High School, which he is where he will be hosting his inaugural youth football camp on June 15. Hubbard will be joined by several of his current Bengals and former Ohio State teammates, including Price, for a camp open to children (grades K-8) that will include football fundamental training and a 7-on-7 competition.
A portion of the proceeds from the camp, which costs $75 per child, will go toward the Sam Hubbard Scholarship Fund – which Hubbard has set up to benefit Moeller students with financial needs – and other local charities including UpSpring, a nonprofit for homeless youth in Cincinnati.
Parents can register their children for the camp by visiting hubbardcamps.com.
“It’s just a great opportunity for young kids to come out and compete a little bit, have some fun, meet some coaches playing at the highest levels and I think it’ll be a great opportunity to give back to the community,” Hubbard said of the camp. “It’s 8 a.m. to 12 (noon), it’s a Saturday morning and not too much of a commitment, but it’s a good opportunity just to get out on the field and have a good time with some Bengals, Ohio State players and get some fundamental training on how to play the game the right way.”
Hubbard’s camp will be held two days after the end of the Bengals’ mandatory minicamp, which also signals the end of their offseason program. Hubbard will then report back to the Bengals for training camp on July 24, with their regular-season opener set for Sept. 8 at 4:05 p.m. against the Seattle Seahawks on the road.