ATHENS — Certainly there is science and medicine involved. Nick Chubb has had the absolute best in care, between his surgeons, Drs. James Andrews and Robert Hancock, and UGA director of sports medicine Ron Courson. And anybody who has paid attention knows that Chubb himself possesses an other-worldly work ethic. Always has.
But La’Velle Chubb has another explanation for what we’ll all witness Saturday when number 27 trots onto the field for the Georgia Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
“You can call it what you want to, but I’m going to call it a miracle, because I know the God I serve and I know the miracles he has performed before,” Chubb’s mother said this week. “It’s the same with this particular situation. Everything that God has done and is going to do in Nick’s life is miraculous. Nick’s love for the game of football, along with his support, has prepared him for this game Saturday, and every game thereafter.”
Chubb is going to start at tailback for the Bulldogs when they face North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN). He’s going in having participated in all 28 of Georgia’s preseason practices and he’ll play without any limitations being placed on him in terms of number of carries or the kinds of plays he’ll run.
Placed in the context of what we saw when Chubb last suited up for the Bulldogs, this is a truly amazing feat. On Oct. 10, 2015, Chubb’s left knee grotesquely bent backward after he was shoved out of bounds on the chunky turf of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. When the tough kid from Cedartown didn’t get up and lay writhing in pain on the ground, everybody knew it was as bad as it looked.
And it was. Three ligaments were shredded – though not the anterior cruciate – and there was cartilage damage as well. It was immediately apparent that Chubb not only was out for the season, but he was going to be looking at an extended recovery.
Fast forward 46 weeks and you’ll hear Chubb’s teammates like Georgia outside linebacker Davin Bellamy saying the junior actually looks stronger and faster than he was before. Or flanker Isaiah McKenzie, who says, “when Nick gets on the field, it’s a whole new ballgame. I can’t wait to watch. That’s all I can say.”
Whether that’s just myth or hopefulness, nobody can be sure until Saturday. But Chubb himself doesn’t dispute it.
“I can do everything I did before,” says Chubb, who has averaged 7.4 yards a carry in his career and scored 24 touchdowns in 19 games.
If that is indeed the case, it helps Georgia’s cause immensely as it prepares to ring in the Kirby Smart era on a national stage. In the Tar Heels, the Bulldogs will face a team that won 11 games a year ago and played for the ACC championship. UNC was able to do that with one of the fastest-moving and most prolific offenses in America, one that averaged 40.7 points per game.
North Carolina’s one vulnerability was a defense that struggled to stop the run. In its last outing, it gave up 645 yards on the ground in a bowl loss to Baylor. The Tar Heels finished 121st out of 127 teams against the run last year.
But the early prospects were that Georgia would have to play them without Chubb. Then Sony Michel broke his left arm in an ATV accident on Independence Day weekend in Atlanta. At that point, it seemed likely the Bulldogs would be down to a career backup senior and two freshmen for their highly-anticipated 2016 opener.
Then camp opened and there was Chubb practicing in a regulation No. 27 jersey. He has not missed a practice since, encountered full contact for the first time in the second week and has gone through five knee braces. Each one was smaller in size than the last, until this past week, when Chubb practiced without one at all.
La’Velle Chubb said the whole ordeal reminds her of two of her favorite movies, “Wilma,” about the former Olympic gold medalist sprinter Wilma Rudolph, and “Forrest Gump.”
“They had those braces on their legs and in those movies and they ran faster and faster and they broke out of the braces they were wearing,” she said. “This is kind of like how it’s going to be for Nicholas. He’s going to break away from the traumatic incident that happened on October 10th that everybody reminds us of every time they say something.
“I kind of look at it like that. He’s going to break away from all that and it’s just going to be amazing once again.”
Nevertheless, Smart and Georgia’s staff did not officially clear Chubb to play until this past Monday.
“We feel good about Nick,” Smart said. “He’s scrimmaged and done a lot of things. He’s had a lot of practices where he’s carried it more than five to seven times. He feels great. He’s ready to go. So he won’t technically be on a pitch count by any means.”
La’Velle Chubb will be sitting among the other Georgia parents at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. She’ll be there with her usual game-day accomplices, daughter Neidra, friend Chris York, brother Kenny Weaver and his wife Sondra.
And they’ll have one more special guest: Nick’s grandmother Brenda Weaver.
“This will be my mother’s very first time attending a UGA game,” La’Velle Chubb said, beaming. “She prefers to watch it on TV. She gets nervous. Sometimes she’ll go into another room and call me and ask me, ‘what happened on that last play?’”
There will be nowhere for Brenda Weaver to hide sitting in section 139 at the Georgia Dome. Nor will there be for Nick’s mother. La’Velle admits to being “anxious” and “excited” about Chubb’s debut Saturday, but insists she’s not worried.
“I have learned not to worry about things and trust God, so I look at it from that standpoint,” she said. “I’m not like on pins and needles, ‘oh my god, is he going to get hurt again.’ I’m not like that. I’m very positive. But in the back of my mind I know this is a physical contact sport and anything can happen. That’s just life in general.”
As for Nick Chubb, he’s trying not to make a big deal out of it.
“I’ve never played in (the Georgia Dome) before so I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’ll be a great experience.”
Or just another miracle.