Amen Ogbongbemiga and Chuba Hubbard knew there’d be skeptics when they left Alberta, one year apart, to play big-time U.S. college football.
Both at Oklahoma State.
“A lot of people probably thought we were just going to get weeded out and never play, and have to come back to Canada to play,” Ogbongbemiga said Thursday on a video conference call, following Oklahoma State’s pro day.
“But we had different things planned.”
Indeed. Different and bigger. So far, they’ve met their expectations — which don’t end here.
No offence to the CFL — whose scouting bureau has Hubbard and Ogbongbemiga ranked 3-4 in its latest (winter) rankings for the three-down league’s May 4 draft — but these two aim to remain south of the border.
With their playing days as Oklahoma State Cowboys at an end (Hubbard eschewed a final year of eligibility), the Albertans are among a group of six Canadians who have a decent to great shot at being selected in the NFL draft, April 29-May 1.
Hubbard (whose first name is pronounced CHOO-ba) was a consensus first-team all-American running back in 2019. His 2020 production was limited by a nasty high ankle sprain, which he battled for more than a month before finally deciding in December to leave the team and concentrate on NFL draft prep.
Born in Edmonton and raised in the east-Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park, Hubbard before Thursday had been seen as an early Day 3 draft pick. Then he ripped off fast times in the 40-yard dash — officially 4.48 seconds, but some scouts reportedly had him as fast as 4.36 seconds, a time faster than any running back posted at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
By any measure, he’s plenty fast for a running back who measured in Thursday at exactly six feet tall and 210 pounds.
Might Hubbard’s NFL draft stock now rise? Perhaps. But the 21-year-old, when healthy, is expected to run fast. After all, he competed for Canada at the 2015 world youth track and field championships in Colombia, finishing fourth in the 100 metres after posting a then personal-best time of 10.55 seconds in his semi-final.
And game tape doesn’t lie. In 2019 time and again, Hubbard burst through holes and was gone, leaving defenders in the rubber bits.
Hubbard said on Thursday he posted “a decent time” in the 40: “Wasn’t too bad.”
The most important thing, he pointed out, was that he proved he’s healthy again. The high ankle sprain he suffered last Halloween in an overtime loss to Texas — in Game 5 of OSU’s 11-game season — was mostly responsible for limiting Hubbard to 675 yards rushing, a 4.7-yard average and five touchdowns.
He’s no stranger to playing through pain.
After redshirting as a freshman in 2017, Hubbard in 2018 averaged 106 rush yards per game after Justice Hill was lost to injury. Hubbard himself required some surgical cleanup on a knee after that season.
When he led U.S. college football in 2019 with 2,094 rush yards on a 6.4 average, and scored 21 touchdowns, Hubbard did so while playing through what has been described as a significant, albeit undisclosed injury. Hubbard revealed Thursday he had another medical issue post-2019.
“I was coming off two surgeries after my 2019 season … some lingering issues there,” he said. “And then I had the high ankle sprain. So (it was important Thursday) just to show that I’m back and healthy. There were a lot of different things going on with my body and my health. But the biggest thing for me was helping my team win.
“I know when it’s all said and done, I have faith in God that everything will work out, wherever I get drafted — first round, second round, undrafted free agent. Whatever happens. I just need a shot. I’ll be ready for it.”
Ogbongbemiga, 22, was born in Laos, Nigeria, then moved with his family to North America — first to Houston, Texas, in 2003 then to Calgary in 2011.
The younger brother of former CFL fullback Alex Ogbongbemiga, Amen is a linebacker who redshirted at Oklahoma State as a freshman in 2016, and started the past two seasons.
He’s seen as a borderline late-Day 3 pick. If he doesn’t get drafted he’ll surely be what’s called a priority free agent, who agrees to terms with an NFL team immediately following the draft’s conclusion on Saturday, May 1.
He measured in Thursday a tick under 6-foot-1, weighing 231 pounds. Ogbongbemiga’s fortes are his speed, competitiveness and stopping the run when he can avoid seal blocks; he’s less effective in pass coverage and in shedding blocks, draftniks say.
Ogbongbemiga on Thursday was timed in the 40 in the upper-4.6, lower-4.7 second range — fast for an NFL linebacker. On the conference call afterward he said he thought he excelled in positional drills. And he didn’t just work out as a linebacker.
“I joined the DBs and did some DB (defensive back) drills and worked with the linebackers as well, just to show my hips (swivel) and the fluidity in my game. I think I excelled in that. I’m excited for the next step of the process.”
Virtually every draft pick who’s not a quarterback, or not a Round 1 pick, must contribute on special teams if they hope to make an NFL roster. That was one of Ogbongbemiga’s specialties at Oklahoma State, which draft analysts couldn’t help but notice on his game tape.
“That’s something I’ve prided my self on, no matter whether I was starting or a backup,” Ogbongbemiga said. “I know how valuable that is in the NFL … I think in my sophomore year I was on all four, and took great pride in that. Whatever I had to do to make an impact. I made a lot of game-changing plays on special teams. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help us win, and I have the same mentality going into the NFL.
“Whatever team that takes me, that wants me — just know that you’re getting a player that’s all-in, no matter what it takes.”