Having reached a comfortable weight, Hubbard hopes versatility can pay dividends up front

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Not long ago, Ja’Quay Hubbard was too big for football.

He then lost approximately 100 pounds throughout high school and the earlier stages of college, but at that point, Hubbard felt he wasn’t big enough.

“When I lost all that weight, I was around 300 pounds,” Hubbard recalled. “I was very mobile and felt very elusive, but I was not strong at the point of contact, and you can’t play the offensive line position like that.”

So Hubbard worked to regain weight and bolster his frame, something the Virginia transfer has done over his time at West Virginia. It allowed him to play in all 12 games last season with 11 starts at right tackle as the Hermitage, Pa., native became a mainstay on the Mountaineers’ offensive line.

“I was not in the strength position that I needed to be and that’s where the last year-and-a-half and two years have really helped with getting that anchor back in me,” Hubbard said. “I was lacking strength and offensive line is all about strength at the point of contact. I really just honed in and knew if I wanted to make my dreams come true and be an asset to this team, I had to take my conditioning and nutrition serious. That’s what I did.” 

Hubbard, who’s splitting reps at right tackle and right guard throughout this spring in an effort to add versatility, admits it hasn’t always been easy deciding between food options.

“It’s a continuous battle. I was born a big boy,” Hubbard said. “Sometimes, I want the fried chicken over the salad, but then I think about Penn State and take the salad right away.”

That, of course, is a reference to the Mountaineers’ 2023 season opener against the defending Rose Bowl Champion on September 2 at Beaver Stadium.

Opening with an opponent the quality of the Nittany Lions may help make Hubbard’s diet choices easier. So, too, does the inner desire of the 6-foot-5 offensive lineman that WVU presently lists at 326 pounds.

“I cared so much about football. The doctor would say, ‘well you’re not worried about the health.’ I was, but honestly, I was worried about being able to pull and pick up a linebacker,” Hubbard said. “This is going to sound so cliche, but I had to become disciplined. I knew if I eat this, this is going to stick to me and not eating too late was a big one. I would eat right before bed and your body needs time to digest. 

“I started drinking green tea — little stuff like that. My nutritionist helped me throughout. Extra workouts and conditioning with [WVU’s head of strength and conditioning Mike Joseph]. Lowering the temperature when you sleep, your body will process better throughout the night and it will help your metabolism and your body recover. Blackout shades and all that.”

Hubbard spent the 2019 season at Virginia as a true freshman, before joining the Mountaineers during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. He was a scout team player his first season in Morgantown and then in on 60 snaps over five games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2021. All but 17 of the plays were against Long Island.

As West Virginia’s coaching staff concluded that Wyatt Milum would stay at left tackle throughout 2022 and what appears to be the remainder of his college career, Hubbard shifted to the right side.

“I’m right-handed and that’s where I have most of my collegiate-level reps at is on the right side and where my training is at,” Hubbard said.

Last year, he was used exclusively at tackle. That may again be the case this season, though by repping at guard, where Hubbard says pass-blocking is easier but run-blocking is more of a challenge, he’s giving himself more of a chance to be utilized.

“The more versatile you are, the better you are. It’s a long season,” Hubbard said. “You never know — a guy or two guys could go down. I could be forced to be put in a position maybe I haven’t had a lot of reps at. That’s why we use spring to really kind of develop that comfort so that when I get in a high pressure situation, it’s natural.”

As Hubbard readies for his fourth season at West Virginia and fifth of college football, he does so somfortable with his weight, which is pivotal in allowing him to play both positions up front.

In the process, he often recalls a quote from his godfather Mike Adams, who played at Ohio State and had stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears in the last decade.

“He was a really big mentor to me and he said, ‘the leaner you stay, the longer you play,’” Hubbard said. “That stuck with me. I’m like, ‘I’m not lean at all so it looks like my career is going to get cut short. I better get to eating salads.’”

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