MANHATTAN — When John Hubert scored on a 95-yard run in No. 15 Kansas State’s season opener, nobody could blame him for cherishing the moment.
He doesn’t get there all that often.
The 5-foot-7 running back ran for 970 yards last season, but he rarely reached the end zone — hallowed ground belonging to quarterback Collin Klein, the quarterback-turned-battering ram who racked up 27 touchdowns rushing during the Wildcats’ 10-win season.
“We give John a lot of grief,” Wildcats tight end Travis Tannahill said with a laugh. “He always runs the ball and always gets pushed out at the two or the one, and then, oh, let Collin get another QB sneak.’ He gets quite a bit of grief for that.”
Even in postgame news conferences, the scrum of TV cameras usually disbands from Hubert the moment that Klein steps to the podium. Hubert is left with his hands in his pockets, talking to a few reporters straggling behind the rest of the pack.
“I set my goal to get a 1,000 yards,” Hubert said after the Miami game last weekend, never mentioning anything about scoring touchdowns. “That’s what I’m going to do.”
Kansas State’s red-zone scoring formula was on display again Saturday, when Klein scored three touchdowns rushing — two of them from a yard out — in a 52-13 romp over the Hurricanes.
Getting the Wildcats to that point, however, fell on the shoulders of Hubert.
While words like “shifty” and “elusive” tend to describe running backs of a similar stature, that’s not necessarily the case with the Wildcats’ junior ball carrier. Many of his yards come after first contact, and it’s not uncommon for several defenders to gang up in bringing him down.
Last season, Hubert had three 100-yard rushing games, and he already has two this season: He ran for 152 yards in the opener against Missouri State, highlighted by the second-longest run in school history, and went for 106 yards against the Hurricanes.
He’ll try to make it three straight Saturday against North Texas.
“He never stops,” Klein said. “He runs extremely hard. Sometimes he’ll bounce off two or three people and just keep motoring right along. He will punish you.”
Sounds a lot like Klein, too.
Watching Hubert battle through much bigger players, powerful legs churning furiously, often inspires his teammates. Wide receiver Curry Sexton compared the momentum generated from Hubert’s carries to the adrenaline infusion the team experiences when defensive players get sacks.
“When you see John out there, running a guy over, stiff-arming a guy, that gets the team going a lot,” Sexton said. “John’s not a big guy, but he runs big. When you see John run a guy over who’s twice his size that kind of gets the team’s juices flowing.”
Hubert wasn’t hotly recruited out of Waco, Texas. He showed up simply trying to make a name for himself, and wound up earning the starting job last season over Bryce Brown, the heavily touted Tennessee transfer who eventually left the program and is now a running back with the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, even though Angelo Pease gets the occasional carry, Hubert is clearly the No. 1 running back, even if he’s not always the No. 1 option in the running game.
“The coaches have a lot of faith in him,” Tannahill said. “Since he got here he’s just been putting confidence in the coaches’ eyes. They’re the ones who make the call and obviously they see something in him that they don’t from the other guys.”
Sitting in on running back meetings with co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, Tannahill has observed some of the finer points of evaluating performance, and has noticed Hubert’s adeptness at reading keys and recognizing what defenses are trying to do.
More than anything, that awareness is what Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder said makes Hubert special.
“Everybody likes to score touchdowns, but I don’t think that’s the most significant thing for him,” Snyder said. “He’s a family member, so to speak, like Collin, and again cares about how the team does and just wants to contribute the best that he can, and I appreciate that, too.”