Chuba Hubbard has always gone his own way.

The 21-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alberta has made choices that outwardly defied convention in the world of football. After a 2019 for the history books and a 2020 of personal growth, Hubbard will be selected in the 2021 NFL Draft this weekend.

Hubbard possesses blazing breakaway speed and great vision. As fast as he is, he has the patience to match, with an ability to wait for and cut through open holes in the defence. Despite struggling to receive the attention he deserved from top college programs, Hubbard decided to continue playing high school football in Canada and was eventually rewarded with a full scholarship from Oklahoma State University.

He peaked as a Cowboy in 2019, when he was college football’s leading rusher and a unanimous All-American. Hubbard decided to return to Oklahoma State for the 2020 season, rather than enter last year’s NFL Draft. He is projected to be taken later in this year’s draft than he would have been if he entered the draft last year—but Hubbard was working on his own timeline. “Canada’s Cowboy” still wanted to complete his college education and mature off the field by staying one more year in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Hubbard caught up with Complex ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft to reflect on the draft process, his decision to delay his draft year, and the growth of Canadian football at large.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What has the process been like preparing for the NFL Draft and for NFL life in general?
It’s been fun, different, special. I mean, a bunch of different things. These last four months have definitely been eye-opening and now that we’re coming to the last few days of this process, it’s definitely treated me well. All these virtual meetings—because of COVID—the NFL Combine being cancelled, pro days… it’s definitely been different but it’s been good.

Is it weird just waiting to see where you will be going next? I mean, you could be living anywhere in the U.S. within the next couple of months.
That’s really the crazy thing about it. It’s one job that you really don’t know where you’re going to go, or where you’re going to be working, or where you’re going to be playing football. So, it definitely has you kind of antsy but it’s exciting at the same time.

You’re partnering with DAZN to star in their Rookie Diaries series, starting with an episode where you take us through your preparation for the NFL Draft. What is it like to get to share your story with people from your own, first-person perspective?
The big thing for me is, I always have my friends and family and everyone who supported me asking about the process. What’s going on, this and that. The fact that I am able to film the process and everything I’m doing throughout this whole draft process has definitely been special. My mom is always asking, my friends are always asking: “Let me see this, let me see that.” The fact that I’m able to show my training, my social life, all these different aspects of my life, is definitely cool.

Canadian football’s evolution is becoming something a lot of people want to talk about now. Not only are you and five other Canadians entering the draft this year, but people north and south of the border really want to shine a spotlight on that. What sort of impact is that attention going to have for Canadian football players going forward?
I was just talking about it not too long ago, just the fact that we’ll have six, maybe seven guys drafted this year. It’s just special. I think that’s going to be a record, actually. The more attention, the more eyes on football players and really athletes in general in Canada, the better. I feel that’s what every athlete in Canada strives for: to help the ones after them. Help the up-and-coming ones get as much exposure as possible. I know that’s what I’m trying to do and pretty much everyone else in this draft is probably trying to do…. The fact that we’re able to see so much exposure in Canada now and it’s growing, it’s definitely good to see. 

“The more attention, the more eyes on football players and really athletes in general in Canada, the better. I feel that’s what every athlete in Canada strives for: to help the ones after them.”

You went through that difficult journey of getting noticed in Canada in high school by the big American colleges, and securing a Division 1 scholarship. What do you think is the biggest thing that needs to change in that process to make it easier for players to stay in Canada in high school and still get noticed by college football programs?
To be honest, I think there is a lot that needs to be done. It’s just the exposure part. That’s just really the biggest aspect of it. The fact that it’s picking up, it’s a good thing, but I don’t know. Just camps and stuff like that, that actually gets Canadian athletes in front of all of these college coaches and stuff. To be able to show their talents to these guys, it would probably be a big next step.

You decided to return to Oklahoma State for the 2020 season rather than enter last year’s draft. I know it’s something you have been asked about a lot and you’ve mentioned that you matured in a lot of ways during your senior season. What’s different about you in April 2021 versus this time last year?
I’ll say what’s different for me May 2020 to May 2021, because I got my degree now and I didn’t last year. That’s definitely one thing, and another aspect is just me as a person. I feel like I matured off the field and even on the field. As a leader, as a football player, my knowledge of the game—really all aspects of football and life.

Did you ever second-guess that decision over the past year, especially when you were dealing with an ankle injury for much of the 2020 season?
I get asked that all the time. Like, “Do you wish you went out?” Nah, I definitely don’t. I don’t live with any regrets…. Like I said, I wanted to come back to get a degree. I wanted to come back to win a national championship, and also mature as a young man and expand my knowledge of the game. I wasn’t able to get a national championship but I was able to do the other two things. No regrets at all.

We saw during your time at Oklahoma State how good you were at finding soft spots in opposing defences. How did you develop that great vision as a running back?
I think it’s just something that I worked on. A big thing for me is people look at me as a fast back. I wanted to be someone who was also patient. I wasn’t rushing to go where I needed to or rush into a hole or anything like that. I create the holes or I wait to develop the play.

You have a non-profit called Your Life, Your Choice. You started it a couple of years ago, setting out to “lift children out of negative environments by teaching life and leadership skills.” How is that non-profit going to grow now that you’re going to be a professional with more resources behind you?
I definitely hope it grows quite a bit in these next few months. Obviously going to the NFL, it gives you such a big platform to use for good. I really feel as an athlete, you’re obligated to use that platform in a positive way.

During the 2019 NHL season, you were invited to do the ceremonial puck drop at an Edmonton Oilers game. If you and Connor McDavid traded sports, who do you think would be the more successful player?
That’s tough. Would we switch positions too?

Yeah, sure.
He would have to put on some weight. Hockey’s tough. Football’s tough too so I don’t know…. I would say me, though, because I can skate. I just can’t stop the best.

What is going to be going through your head on draft weekend when your name is called and you know that you made it?
Really just how blessed I am and how far I’ve come. This journey throughout how many years now has definitely been special. Definitely been very fortunate for all support and all the love I’ve got these past few years. Just that I’m blessed and I’m very thankful.