WCPO's Mike Dyer is giving a behind-the-scenes look at how Cincinnati Bengals rookie Sam Hubbard is adjusting to life in the NFL, both on and off the field. These stories chronicle how the former Ohio State and Moeller standout is progressing with on-field play, interactions with teammates and coaches and his new day-to-day experience of life as an NFL player.
CINCINNATI -- As the clock neared 11 p.m. Thursday, Sam Hubbard couldn't help but smile inside the Paul Brown Stadium locker room.
"I know it was just a preseason game," Hubbard said. "But it was an awesome experience."
The Cincinnati Bengals rookie defensive end had just played three quarters on defense and special teams in the heat and humidity of his hometown, and he was content with his NFL preseason debut.
"After that first couple of plays, I felt myself getting more and more comfortable out there," Hubbard said. "It was definitely an adjustment to the speed of the game. I felt like I was getting better and better as I was getting more tired."
The 23-year-old shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyebrows and grinned. It may have made sense to only Hubbard in the moment, but that's all that mattered.
"Early on, there is just bigger, faster dudes," Hubbard said. "It takes a little bit to get used to it. You have to react quicker and do everything quicker."
Hubbard, who is No. 2 on the Bengals' depth chart at left defensive end, said the team is short on defensive ends this preseason. He expected a lot would be placed on his plate during the Bengals' preseason opener against the Chicago Bears.
"We are very pleased with Sam," said Duke Tobin, Bengals director of player personnel. "He's shows the physical and mental capacity to be a very good NFL player. He played a lot in his first game and did a lot of really good things. There are still things he needs to work on, as do all young players, but we're very optimistic on Sam's future."
Hubbard used his length and quickness at 6 feet 5 inches and 270 pounds. He was active in the backfield a lot by utilizing pass rush techniques.
"I just feel great to have that first game under my belt," Hubbard said.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz liked what he saw from Hubbard during training camp. Muñoz, a Bengals preseason TV analyst, said Hubbard performed well in Thursday night's game.
"I see a young man who is going to be a good one," Muñoz said. "He has the work ethic, the smarts and the athleticism. I'm really impressed."
A memorable journey to the NFL
Fifteen years ago this week, Jim Hubbard took his youngest son to his first football practice with the All Saints Shamrocks.
Little did Jim Hubbard and his wife, Amy, know then they would be sitting in Lot D next to Paul Brown Stadium four hours before Sam made his NFL preseason debut.
The sun baked everything around the tailgaters, but no one seemed to mind.
"We can't actually really believe that he's in Cincinnati with all of our family and friends," Amy Hubbard said. "It's just so much fun."
Family photos circulated this week of Sam Hubbard attending a Bengals preseason game in 2007 or 2008. Because of his youth and high school football schedules, he usually could attend only preseason or playoff games.
Thursday night was the first time in Hubbard's career that he played in a game at Paul Brown Stadium. It carried much significance to his family and friends.
"It's really a dream come true," Jim Hubbard said. "It's really amazing."
Jim and Amy Hubbard set up their tailgate at 3 p.m. Thursday next to the stadium. Moeller High School, Ohio State University and Cincinnati Bengals flags flew next to the large Bengals party tent.
"It became a real art form up at Ohio State," Jim Hubbard said. "We would leave here at 6 in the morning and get there at 7:30 (a.m.) for an 8 p.m. game. We would watch the sun rise and the sun set. We would have a couple hundred people."
Jim, Amy and their daughter Madison Hubbard enjoyed discussing the new tailgate space in downtown Cincinnati just a short drive from Sam's apartment at the Banks.
Sam's family is a listening ear for him. They can be his distraction or escape from football when he needs one.
‘A special day'
Sam Hubbard walked into Paul Brown Stadium wearing earbuds and a backpack at 3:40 p.m. Thursday. He drove the short distance from his apartment to the stadium and planned to eat a pre-game meal.
This was a momentous day, and Hubbard was eager to grab the opportunity. He was prepared physically and mentally.
He woke up at 9 a.m. -- a bit later than usual -- and received a massage before participating in the team's walk-through in the late morning. It was important to get his leg strength back after the grind of training camp.
"It's a special day and I'm really excited," Hubbard said.
Everything he learned at All Saints, Moeller, Ohio State and this past spring with the Bengals led up to this moment in front of 35,633 at PBS.
"It's just a culmination of all the lessons I've learned on how to prepare yourself, your body and your mind and I'm ready to go," Hubbard said.
After the Bengals defeated the Bears 30-27, his family left their seats in Section 106, Row 20 to greet him.
"They were waiting on the sideline as I ran into the tunnel," Hubbard said. "I got to run by them and give them high-fives and thank them for coming out."