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Sam Hubbard grew into role as Joey Bosa's replacement

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- One after another, Sam Hubbard kept outgrowing the positions he was being fitted for at Ohio State.

A safety in high school, he soon found himself moving up to linebacker after arriving on campus for the Buckeyes. Still in the middle of packing on the muscle, the versatile athlete would then spend a little time on offense, learning how to run routes and working on blocking schemes at tight end.

But that wasn’t a permanent home for Hubbard, either, not with what would eventually be 35 additional pounds going on his 6-foot-5 frame since he arrived as a true freshman a year ago, taking him up to 265 overall. Suddenly the hulked-up Hubbard looked more like Joey Bosa and played with that same speed and energy, so Ohio State simply moved him to that spot as a protege for its star pass-rusher.

Now on his fourth position in the span of roughly a year, the redshirt freshman has found a home -- and will be called on to do a decent Bosa impression with the star lineman suspended for the opener at Virginia Tech and Hubbard in line to fill his shoes.

"It’s pretty crazy, I don’t really know how it happened," Hubbard said. "Just [strength coach Mickey] Marotti, I guess he’s really the one who has done it for me. You’ve got to learn what it’s like to eat, and gaining weight, it just kind of happened.

"I don’t really feel any different, because I’ve seen myself day by day. But people who saw me last year versus seeing me now, they’re like, what the hell happened to you?"

The physical transformation is hard to miss, and there is little doubt he has the tools needed to shine in his new spot on the defensive line.

But the bigger question will be how Hubbard handles the pressure that will be on him when the Buckeyes open their title defense against the Hokies. He will be pressed into a starting role that normally belongs to perhaps the best defender in the country, a surefire first-round draft pick who obviously didn’t spend the past couple years shuffling through positions.

Perhaps if Hubbard were still diagnosing formations at linebacker or trying to focus on route concepts at tight end, that might be more of a concern for Ohio State. But there were some signs all along that coming off the edge up front would eventually be the perfect spot for him, dating to his days as a safety and a lacrosse player in high school, and the way he has taken to the role figures to keep Hubbard heavily involved for the Buckeyes even when Bosa does return.

"My high school coach [at Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati], actually when I was a senior still playing safety, he predicted I would play defensive end," Hubbard said. "I was like, 'No way, there’s no way.' He said by my sophomore year I would be in a three-point stance every play. I guess he was right.

"I was struggling. I’m not going to lie, when I was at tight end and doing linebacker and all that, I was struggling. But I really feel comfortable at defensive line, it’s just now up to refining my skills and perfecting my craft."

There obviously isn’t any need to worry much about the physical aspect, particularly given the recent transformation that has raised so many eyebrows.

Maybe the only concern would be if Hubbard somehow kept on growing and somehow played himself out of one more position. But now that Hubbard has built himself into a defensive end and Ohio State has him where it wants him, there won’t be nearly as much reason to keep feeding him anything other than practice reps in one spot for a while.

"He’s really what we’re looking for in a defensive end," defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. "You saw a guy who was going to be big, you knew he was going to grow and so we played him at tight end, some H-back and all of a sudden he kept growing.

"So we just said, 'let’s make this your home, defensive end.' Now he’s home, and he’s been a really great surprise for us."

With the no Bosa around for the opener, the Buckeyes won’t have to wait long to share their oversized surprise with the world.