ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Less than a year after a gruesome knee injury, Nick Chubb is ready to run again for the Georgia Bulldogs.
His teammates expected nothing less.
"It was pretty frightening when it happened," center Brandon Kublanow said. "But I know Nick. He's an incredibly hard worker. So there was no doubt in my mind that he'd be ready to go."
Chubb was one of the nation's top running backs and being touted as a Heisman Trophy contender when his sophomore season suddenly ended during an Oct. 10 game at Tennessee.
This wasn't just any injury, either.
While being tackled along the sideline, Chubb's left knee buckled grotesquely in the wrong direction. When video of the injury was posted on Internet, it usually came with a warning label.
Chubb tore several ligaments, leaving some to speculate that it could be career-ending injury. If nothing else, there seemed little chance he'd be back on the field some 11 months later.
But Chubb has defied the odds every step of the way. And, from all indications, he'll be in a leading role Saturday when the No. 18 Bulldogs open the season against No. 22 North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
"He's even more physical than he was before," defensive tackle DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle said. "Nick Chubb has always been a hard runner, but now he's an even harder runner."
New coach Kirby Smart said Chubb will play against the Tar Heels, with no limitations on the number of carries he might get or how many hits he can take.
"He feels great," Smart said. "He's ready to go."
Chubb's recovery is especially timely for the Bulldogs, who have taken some additional hits at running back.
Sony Michel, who took over as the starter when Chubb went down, sustained a broken left forearm in an ATV crash in early July and still had not been cleared for full-contact drills coming into this week. Freshman Elijah Holyfield, the son of former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, is recovering from an ankle injury sustained in a scrimmage.
The depth chart released Monday lists both Chubb and senior Brendan Douglas as the first-teamers. Douglas rushed for only 140 yards last season, averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
When Chubb scrimmaged for the first time since his injury a couple of weeks ago, there was some natural trepidation about being hit. But, with every practice, he gains more and more confidence that his knee is fully healed.
"I feel good," he said in a recent interview. "We're doing a lot of things to help my knee out, and getting tackled a couple of times helps."
Chubb also has been getting used to wearing a knee brace, which still feels a bit awkward but gives him an added sense of stability.
"I feel good when I have it on," he said.
Despite starting only eight games as a freshman in the same backfield with Todd Gurley,Chubb finished his debut season with 1,547 yards — ranking second in the Southeastern Conference. He stretched his streak of 100-yard games to 13 in a row, equaling Herschel Walker's school record, before the injury at Tennessee ended that run.
During his rehab, Chubb was helped along by the Korean martial art taekwondo.
"A lot of kicking motions and hopping on my legs and stuff like that," he said.
Chubb also learned just how much the game meant to him when forced to watch from the sideline. Though never a very vocal leader, he's tried to pass that message on to his teammates.
"If it's taken away, you're going to miss it," Chubb said. "So when you're out there, give it all you've got."
Given the severity of his injury — even now, it's difficult to watch the replay without feeling a bit queasy — Chubb conceded that he's a bit surprised to be this far along,
"Then again," he added, "I don't know because I haven't been in this situation before. I've seen people come back from it, but not as fast. I don't know how to feel about it."
The Bulldogs are just glad to have him back.