NSJ Player of the Year: Chubb bet on himself — and won

NC State defensive end’s final collegiate season will result in a draft payout

NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb returned for his senior season and was dominant, winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as college football’s best defensive player. (Rob Kinnan / USA Today Sports)

Two seasons ago, NC State decided to honor former No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Mario Williams by putting a commemorative patch on his old No. 9 jersey and reserving it for a player capable of living up to the high standard he set while playing for the Wolfpack.

Fellow defensive end Bradley Chubb was the first one to wear it.

The next time it’s issued, presumably next season, there’s a good chance the honored jersey will have a second commemorative patch on it.

One bearing Chubb’s name.

“If that happens, it happens,” the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Georgia native said. “I’ll be excited if it does.”

Chubb certainly has the credentials to be mentioned in the same breath as the greatest players in State football history.

His career totals of 26 sacks and 60 tackles for loss are both school records, surpassing the previous marks set by Williams. His play this season helped make him the first Wolfpack player to be named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and the winner of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the top defender in college football.

Because of those accomplishments and the impact he had on State’s eight-win season, Chubb has been selected by the North State Journal staff as the North Carolina Player of the Year for 2017.

NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb gestures to fans during the Wolfpack’s 33-35 win over Syracuse at Carter-Finley Stadium. (Rob Kinnan / USA TODAY Sports)

“He’s the poster boy for hard work, determination and what it can get you,” State coach Dave Doeren said of his star. “He came in an undersized lineman that we moved to linebacker. Then he got big all of a sudden and worked so hard. His dedication, his mindset, his toughness, his competitive spirit and his class is unbelievable.”

Chubb could easily have entered the draft and been taken early following a breakout 2016 season in which he recorded 10.5 sacks. Instead, he decided to return for his senior season to, in his words, “finish what we started.”

Among those goals were earning first-team All-ACC honors and becoming an All-American, both of which he accomplished. He also improved his already strong draft stock and is now projected to be one of the first players selected next spring.

One thing Chubb didn’t do was lead the Wolfpack to an Atlantic Division championship. He did, however, succeed in helping his team win a school-record six conference games while injecting it into the national conversation with wins against divisional powers Florida State and Louisville and a ranking that rose as high as No. 14.

Chubb’s performance in the nationally televised Thursday night victory against the Cardinals and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson became his signature moment at State.

He set the tone early by sacking Jackson on the game’s second play, then spent the rest of the night in the backfield giving the Louisville quarterback fits — much to the delight of a group of students in the front row at Carter-Finley Stadium adorned in body paint spelling out the message “Chubb for Heisman.”

“When I first saw it, I thought they were talking about my cousin,” Chubb said, referring to Georgia running back Nick Chubb. “But it definitely felt good. The support was amazing.”

Chubb finished this year’s regular season with 10 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, a total that ranks second in the FBS, while adding 72 total tackles, nine quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

“I just (thank) God he’s on our team,” Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley said.

It is still not known whether Chubb will play his final game for the Wolfpack when it takes on Arizona State at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, this week or if he’ll sit it out to protect his draft status the way Carolina Panthers rookie Christian McCaffery and others did last year.

Either way, he said he’ll finish his college career satisfied that he did everything he could for himself and his team.

“I feel like this university has helped me become a man in the situation that I have been put in, whether it be in the classroom, on the football field or off the field,” he said. “The coaches have been great role models and father figures to me. The guys up here are all like brothers to me. I grew a lot with them, on and off the field, and I have become a lot more mature since I have got here. It has been a fun journey.”