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Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard's long, strange road to pass-rushing success

Sam Hubbard has 32 tackles, including 6 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this season. Not bad for a guy who once accepted a Notre Dame lacrosse scholarship. "I don't know how I wound up here, but I'm really glad I did," Hubbard said. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- From his corner office overlooking Ohio State’s indoor practice field, sometimes it seems like the daydreams of Nick Myers have sprung to life.

There have been a few occasions where Myers’ lacrosse team has a special guest passing through on his way from football workouts, a former recruit who got away but boasted a powerful shot that might have only gotten stronger thanks to all the years in the weight room with the Buckeyes. And when Sam Hubbard picks up a stick like the one he still keeps in his apartment and flings around a few balls, at least for a moment both Myers and Ohio State’s rising star at defensive end wonder what might have been.

“I definitely think about that a lot,” Myers said. “He had really good length, and I think he was physical, he was tall, he had the ability to dodge the alleys and create his own shot. Really he could do just about anything you wanted on the lacrosse field.

“Listen, man, if they ever want to let us borrow him, the door is always open.”

There was a time where Hubbard would have gladly taken up that offer, and he once took a handful of visits to meet with Myers back in high school before ultimately committing to Notre Dame to play lacrosse. When it became apparent that football was going to be the path for Hubbard, Myers again met with him and his family to chat during a recruiting trip to Ohio State, though it was already clear the window to keeping a stick in his hands was closing.

Making that choice to put it down wasn’t easy, though, and the road from Irish lacrosse commit to Ohio State pass-rushing phenom had a few bumps. There have been some regrets, struggles and setbacks, but ultimately the skills that made him so dangerous on one field -- and in a legendary dodgeball game -- are showing up in a major way on another.

“I didn’t play [lacrosse] my senior year, which is one of the big regrets I have about my athletic career,” Hubbard said. “I think I still had doubts my freshman year when I was redshirting and not really playing. I was never thinking about quitting or anything like that, I just expected so much of myself and wanted to be a great player right away and didn’t see that it would take more time to adapt and get ready.

“In high school I had my vision set on something else, so I was distracted then. But I still miss [lacrosse] a lot. It was just tough to watch it and thinking about what you could be doing if you were out there, the plays you could be making.”

The impact didn’t come as quickly or perhaps as easily as Hubbard had grown accustomed to in a different sport, and his shift to football full time with the Buckeyes was further complicated by the way he was shuffled from position to position after arriving on campus.

Still long and lanky and with plenty of speed, Hubbard first started out in the defensive backfield as a potential safety. As he continued to tack on muscle and fill out physically, Ohio State moved him up to linebacker and then switched him to the other side of the ball to give tight end a shot.

“I was struggling,” Hubbard said. “I’m not going to lie, when I was at tight end and doing linebacker and all that, I was struggling. I was jumbled around and never knowing what to do.

“But as I was gaining weight and then getting comfortable in a position [at defensive end] the spring of my freshman year, that was really when I solidified that this is what I can do and be successful.”

Nailing down that permanent home with the Buckeyes started unlocking his true potential as a defensive end, and it was where many of those same attributes that made him such a dangerous lacrosse threat started taking root. Still growing as a lineman seemingly each week, his raw ability has allowed him to rack up 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks in just less than two seasons despite his relative lack of experience at the position.

Although there is one key difference between his current role and the old lacrosse one, which Myers was quick to point out after spotting him on a bench at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

“He was definitely more of an offensive guy, he liked shooting, he liked scoring,” Myers said with a smile. “And now it’s funny because he’s a defensive end.

“Sam was an awesome middie. I remember watching him his junior year and just the presence, his ability, his size and frame, ability to carry pressure -- just physically he was able to do things that you just don’t see on a lacrosse field often, and I think Sam had that potential [for the next level]. He would probably not be playing at the weight he’s at now if he was playing lacrosse, and I think he’d be OK with me saying that. It’s just football shape and lacrosse shape are very different in terms of how you prepare and train to be elite in that sport.”

Hubbard had to come to terms with that fact a few years ago, and he didn’t argue that he might not have the stamina anymore to handle the nonstop running lacrosse requires. Even at 266 pounds now, though, Hubbard still might have the speed to have an impact and joked that his new frame might “actually up my game a little bit.”

Either way, it’s clear that his natural set of skills continues to translate across more than one sport despite him definitively settling on one. And it wasn’t even his lacrosse commitment to Notre Dame or his rise on the football field with Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati that helped launch him down his current path when Urban Meyer saw him in the first place.

“No, I watched him play dodgeball,” Meyer said. “Big, good-looking kid -- well, we got him to camp after that. I was with [Moeller football coach] John Rodenberg in the gymnasium with [Ohio State cornerbacks coach] Kerry Coombs, and we started just talking about their players. ‘You see, I got this kid going to Notre Dame to play lacrosse.’ I said, ‘Where is he?’ ‘Right over there.’ Oh, I was watching him, pretty good dodgeball player. I said, ‘Let's get him to camp.’

“He's always been a four-to-six [seconds of effort] guy, but it's his strength. He just didn't lift like a football player, and obviously he's doing very well now.”

And at this point, there’s no turning back for Hubbard.

He still will pick up the stick in his room on occasion. And he’ll still drop by to chat with his friends on the Ohio State lacrosse team and take some good-natured jokes from Myers about the old scouting report from his high school days. But after all the work that has gone into turning a standout middie into a star defensive end, there’s no room for much more than that.

“They’ll be out here tossing it around, and after workouts I’ll come hang out to toss it around and take some shots, show off a little bit,” Hubbard said. “I’ve still got it -- I’ve got it big time.

“It’s hard to believe I’m here, because a lot of hard work went into this process. I don’t know how I wound up here, but I’m really glad I did. Obviously I made the right decision coming here. And if I did all this in five years, I want to see where I’m at in the next five years.”

Myers will be watching, too, following the journey of that skinny recruit bursting with potential who took another path.