By Jack Murray
LOS ANGELES — “Cincinnati-born Sam Hubbard, yes, sir!”
Those were the words of Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon as he left the podium and approached his teammate Hubbard, a defensive end. He could have descended straight to the track at Drake Stadium on the University of California at Los Angeles campus, but the high-profile running back instead chose to share praise for his teammate.
This respect and praise that Hubbard receives from his teammates and coaches reflect more than just the man on the gridiron. Sure, Hubbard is a catalyst on a tenacious Bengals defense and notably made a clutch sack on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes that helped force overtime in the AFC Championship, but the leadership qualities in Hubbard are known throughout the team and coaching staff.
“Sam is critical,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “He’s a homegrown kid, Cincinnati, (Archbishop) Moeller (High School), Ohio State and Cincinnati Bengals. You can’t write a script better than that. He’s a big part of the heart of the defense, and the players play off of his energy.”
As Taylor mentioned, Hubbard is born and bred in the city of Cincinnati. He was a third-round draft choice of his hometown team in 2018 and has been a regular starter since his second year in the league. He recorded 7.5 sacks and made 62 tackles in 2021 and is considered one of the most essential players on a rising Bengals defense.
Hubbard said growing up in Cincinnati was vital in his formative years and helped him turn into the person and athlete he is today. He also said representing his home city is a dream come true.
“It’s amazing,” Hubbard said. “I’ve been put in some fortunate positions to play in the NFL, and anyone in the NFL would make the most of it.”
At Archbishop Moeller High School, Hubbard was a gifted athlete on both the gridiron and the lacrosse field. Before committing to play football at Ohio State University, Hubbard was committed to play lacrosse for the University of Notre Dame. He said the cross-training from the sport was helpful for growth in his athleticism.
“I think lacrosse has really developed me as an athlete all around,” Hubbard said. “It improves athletic ability, hand-eye coordination and open-field movement. I really believe that playing that sport from a young age turned me into the athlete I am today.”
Despite having moved on to extremely high levels of the sport, Hubbard said he remains close with his teammates from high school as this was where he learned how to succeed on the field.
“Moeller was really my first opportunity to learn what it means to be a part of a team and win,” Hubbard said. “We won two state championships my junior and senior year, and those relationships you build on a team is what contributes to winning games. My teammates that I played with at Moeller are my closest friends to this day.”
John Rodenberg was Hubbard’s head football coach at Archbishop Moeller and oversaw his development over the course of his four years in high school. Rodenberg said that along with Hubbard’s excellence on the football field, his personality and demeanor was a standout quality.
“Well, you know, first of all, he’s got a really magnetic personality,” Rodenberg said. “He’s just one of those guys that when he’s in a room, he can create, he can get everybody going and excited. That’s one thing he always brought to the table.”
Cornerback Mike Hilton gave further praise to Hubbard and his role with the defensive unit, mentioning how his ties to the city add extra motivation for the team to win on the biggest stage.
“He means everything to the defense,” Hilton said. “I call him ‘Cincinnati’s own.’ He is the guy we look for to make a lot of plays for us week in and week out, and we know how much he has put into the organization. He’s a guy we want to bring the championship home for.”
Hubbard’s message to the Cincinnati fans is clear — he and the team will be putting maximum effort toward a winning result on Super Bowl Sunday.
“I’m going to give it all I’ve got and leave it on the field this Sunday,” Hubbard said. “I’m going to hold nothing back — this is everything to me.”
Jack Murray is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @Murray_Jack_.