ATHENS – Wherever she goes in and around Cedartown, at the grocery store or gas station, work, or whenever she’s somewhere that she’s recognized as Nick Chubb’s mama, Lavelle Chubb gets the questions.
“How’s Nick?” people ask.
“Is Nick going to be able to play?”
“Is he gonna play against North Carolina?”
“Is he gonna be as good as he was?”
If they’re delivered to her in the right spirit, Ms. Chubb always does her best to answer them. If not, she’ll handle them differently.
“It’s expected,” she said of the constant queries. “They’re fans. The majority of them are genuinely concerned. When they’re not, I know how to walk away and still be polite.”
As one might imagine, as the Georgia Bulldogs edge ever closer to the start of preseason camp and a very challenging opening game — and now that another back has been felled by injury — the questions are becoming ever more frequent and earnest. But through it all, since her son’s body and knee went in two different directions in Knoxville last October to now, as he plays dodge ball in a gym with cancer patients without even wearing a knee brace, Lavelle Chubb’s answers have stayed consistent.
“It’s just a matter of time, regardless,” she said of when her son would play live football again. “Nobody knows when. The doctors and trainers don’t know. Nicholas doesn’t know when. He’s not going to know until he gets out there and does it.”
It has been 269 days since Chubb tore three ligaments in his left knee on the first play from scrimmage against Tennessee last October, and it has been 257 days since Dr. Robert Hancock and Dr. James Andrews repaired that damage during surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?
Not to Mama.
“To me it’s just like yesterday,” Lavelle Chubb said. “I just keep him covered in prayer.”
Based on the very broad timelines provided by various orthopaedic societies regarding such injuries — eight to 12 months — Chubb should be approaching a window in which it would be reasonable to assume he could play. Nine and a half months will have passed when the Bulldogs run onto the field at the Georgia Dome for their soldout opener against North Carolina.
But it won’t be Chubb’s call. Ultimately that will be made by Chubb’s doctors and Ron Courson, UGA’s senior associate athletic director for sports medicine. Whatever they advise, Chubb will accept.
As eager as he is to get back on the field — and his mother confirms that he is — Nick Chubb is going to do what he is told.
“Nicholas is going to follow rules,” Lavelle Chubb said of her son. “So whatever the doctors and the trainers say, that’s what he’s going to do. That’s always served him well. He’s a protocol guy.”
The good news for Bulldogs’ fans is Chubb was prescribed a very rigorous and aggressive rehabilitation plan, and he has followed it to the letter. Every time the doors have opened in UGA’s state-of-the-art training room, Chubb has been in there doing as he was told. He has performed every exercise and drill. To date, he has checked every box as far as achievement and progress. He’s reached more than a few ahead of schedule.
In the spring, Chubb sprinted on treadmills and took handoffs full speed in practice. This summer, he has been seen flipping tires and running pass routes. If not for a 7-inch scar running down the outside of Chubb’s left knee, one would never know as he walks around UGA’s campus he’d been injured.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll play in Game 1.
“I’m not surprised; nobody should be,” Lavelle Chubb said of the progress her son has made. “But he’s not Superman. He’s not Batman. He’s just Nick.”
That alone gives the Bulldogs great hope.
Reminder: This is not a ranking of Georgia’s best players, so to speak. It is an evaluation of which players are most vital to the team’s success in 2016 based on their own talent, the importance of their position, the depth at their positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
Other important players examined in this series were:
And now for the important player for the Bulldogs in 2016 …
1. Nick Chubb
WHY HE’S VITAL: Chubb is vital just because he can run with a football like few others in the country. He breaks tackles, changes directions and outruns people with equal mastery. That’s why he’s been able to average 7.4 yards a carry in his career and rush for 2,294 yards and 21 touchdowns in 19 games. It was important that Chubb get back on the field for Georgia before his backfield mate Sony Michel broke his arm in an ATV accident. Now it’s even more important as only senior utilityman Brendan Douglas and four others who have never played in a college game are currently available to run the football.
“Chubb is working his tail off. What I like most about Ron Courson, who is our director of athletic training, he sends me a video about once every three or four days. I might be at the office, I might be at home, I might be on the road, but when you get that video and you know it’s got a link, I’m fired up. Each time I get a video I make a point to text Chubb saying, ‘Nick, I see you working. I see what you’re doing,’ because he wants to recognized for what he’s doing. He’s busted his tail. He’s living the silent life right now. He’s ready to come bursting out at the first opportunity.” – Georgia coach Kirby Smart two months ago.
Chubb is able to come back full speed and play for the Bulldogs in the opener against North Carolina. But so does Michel, and the two are able to split the load and give back to Georgia a running game that averaged 192 yards a game and 5.1 yards a carry a year ago. That would take pressure off the Bulldogs’ quarterbacks to carry the offense and give new starters at offensive tackle a chance to develop and perfect their pass-blocking techniques.
Neither Chubb nor Michel are able to play in the first game and the Bulldogs have to turn to a running back corps that consist of a tough inside runner and four unproven backups who have yet to play tailback in a college game: Shaquery Wilson, a sophomore converted from wideout in the spring; redshirt freshman Tae Crowder; and incoming freshmen Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield. The lack of experience available shrinks the Bulldogs’ playbook and puts even more pressure on Georgia’s quarterbacks to pass the football, whether they’re proficient at it or not.
Georgia wants Chubb to get back and play as quickly as possible and he appears to be significantly ahead of schedule in that regard. But the Bulldogs also know they have in the 5-foot-10, 220-pound junior a precious commodity that can’t be riskily handled. Though the season-opening game against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in the Georgia Dome is a high-profile, nationally-televised matchup against an opponent that won 11 games last year, it is, after all, a non-conference contest. In the end will have little if any affect Georgia’s season goals. It’s not until the Bulldogs embark on the SEC schedule in a Week 3 road game at Missouri that championship pursuits truly come on line. For that reason, expect UGA to continue to be very conservative in regard to Chubb’s handling at least until then. But medical and physical testing will determine when and how much Chubb will play and, in that regard, he has always measured off-the-charts.