Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard prepares to run the 40-yard dash at NFL Pro Day, in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, April 1, 2021. The Oklahoma State running back from Sherwood Park, Alta., was taken by the Carolina Panthers in the fourth round, No. 126 overall, of the NFL draft Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Sue Ogrocki

Carolina Panthers take Alberta RB Chuba Hubbard in fourth round of 2021 NFL draft

Chuba Hubbard’s patience was finally rewarded Saturday.

The Oklahoma State running back from Sherwood Park, Alta., was taken by the Carolina Panthers in the fourth round, No. 126 overall, of the NFL draft. Hubbard became the fourth Canadian drafted, tying the 2014 record for most Canucks picked.

And with Iowa tackle Alaric Jackson of Windsor, Ont., and Oklahoma State linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga of Calgary both still on the board, there’s an opportunity for that mark to be eclipsed.

“It just shows there’s a lot of hidden gems across the border,” Hubbard said during a Panthers’ Zoom call Saturday. “The fact that you see a lot of guys from Canada, so many of my friends, so many guys that I know, make their dreams come true and achieve all of these things, it’s great.

“It’s a special feeling. I hope that this shows that younger guys from Canada and really all over, they can do the same thing. We just continue to create this pipeline from Canada to the States for football and really all other sports.”

Hubbard became the first Canadian running back taken in the NFL draft since Carolina selected Montreal’s Tim Biakabutuka in the opening round in 1996.

But Hubbard had to wait two days in order to hear his name called. The first-round selections were made Thursday night, followed by the second and third rounds Friday.

Three Canadians were taken Friday night.

Oregon safety Jevon Holland, of Coquitlam, B.C., went in the second round, No. 36 overall, to the Miami Dolphins. Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, of Montreal, and Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer, of Brampton, Ont., were taken in the third round by Washington and the L.A. Chargers, respectively.

The six-foot, 208-pound Hubbard ran for 625 yards (4.7-yard average) and five touchdowns last season. After missing two games with a high ankle sprain, he decided to opt out of the remainder of the ‘20 campaign and declare for the draft.

It wasn’t the ending Hubbard envisioned when he decided to remain in school after leading American university football with 2,094 yards rushing (6.4-yard average) and 21 TDs in 2019.

“It (2020) was a period to get better, become a better person, better leader, better football player,” Hubbard said. “That’s really what this year has been … I just look at it as a year of learning and growth, that’s how I’ve taken it.”

Hubbard proved earlier this month at Oklahoma State’s pro day he’s healthy again, posting an official 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds although some social media reports had him running under 4.40 seconds.

He also registered a 36-inch vertical jump, 4.26-second short shuttle and 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

Hubbard will provide depth behind starting running back Christian McCaffrey, who ran for 1,387 yards in 2019.

“I know I definitely need to work on my pass protection,” Hubbard said. “In regards to the passing game … I definitely feel I can be a threat there, a weapon there.

“Obviously Christian McCaffrey does a lot of work there and I think I model a lot of my stuff when it comes to catching the ball after him. I have a big chip on my shoulder. I promise (the Panthers) are going to get the best out of me.”

In fact, Hubbard said he grew up a Panthers fan and cheered for the team in its 24-10 Super Bowl loss to Denver on Feb. 7, 2016.

“I grew up a big Cam Newton fan,” Hubbard said. “Going into the Super Bowl against the Broncos, I was really hoping the Panthers were going to win, I’m not going to lie.

“I’m forever fortunate enough, forever blessed to be chosen by them.”

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