By Chip Towers
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
There’s not a lot here nowadays. The only buildings still standing on the site of this once-vibrant town named for the founding family are Chubb Chapel United Methodist Church and the rock building that housed the volunteer fire department. There’s also a cemetery. The rest of it washed away in the great flood of Big Cedar Creek in 1916.
But evidence of the strength, tenacity and self-sufficiency that this community represented at the turn of the last century remains in the tangible form of its people — and one Georgia football player in particular.
Nick Chubb, as the Bulldogs know their beloved tailback, is known as Nicholas within his family. That’s the given name bestowed upon him from one of the eight original Chubb brothers who settled this area in the 1850s or ’60s, depending on which account one believes.
What’s certain, and verifiable in historical documents, is that John Henry Chubb founded this community along with his wife, eight sons, a daughter and a small colony of free blacks sometime around the Civil War. They came from North Carolina, near the Virginia border, and put down roots on a hillside above a creek in what then was and still is the middle of nowhere.
Most of the direct descendants of the family are named for one of those eight brothers: William, Henry, John, Thomas, Jacob, Isaac, George and, of course, Nicholas.
The “King Chubbs,” the family calls them. Chubb’s father is one of many in the family named Henry, including Nick’s oldest brother.
How this group of people not only subsisted but flourished in the post-Civil War South remains the stuff of legend. Based on census records, Henry Chubb is believed to have settled the area sometime between 1850 and 1864. The Chubb name does not appear on the 1860 census, but records show that Henry Chub — then spelled with one “b” — purchased 120 acres in Floyd County for $900 in 1864, before the end of the Civil War.
The normally quiet-spoken Nick Chubb lights up when the subject is broached.
“They came and settled and they were never slaves,” Nick says after a recent preseason practice. “That’s the biggest part everybody in the family always talks about — never slaves. I’ve never really understood how they were capable of doing all those things during that time period. I don’t know how they became educated and knew what they were doing. There are still questions about how they were able to do some of the things they were able to do. It’s crazy to think about it.”
Chubb’s father, Henry, fills in some of the blanks on a late-summer tour of the area, located three miles from the Alabama border and just up the road from Cave Spring, where Nick was born.
“They say the father, John Henry, got along with the sheriff of Rome, and he kind of looked out for them,” Henry said. “John was the main man. They’d all meet on Sundays and talk about the businesses and what they needed to do that week.”
In its heyday, Chubbtown consisted of a church, a post office, a school, a saw mill, a casket company, a cotton gin, a cemetery, a grist mill, a syrup mill, a wagon company, a blacksmith shop, a lodge and a meeting hall. Henry pulls out a copy of an old map from a photo album that shows exactly where each business was located.
Nobody bothered them because they didn’t need anything. If they needed it, they made it.
“It is said that they were well-respected by the whites around the community,” Nick said. “They came and actually bought stuff from them and they traded goods. I think they kind of worked with them. There wasn’t any kind of hating going on or anything like that.”
If you really want to know what Nick Chubb is all about, it’s here you come to find out. The family still owns more than 100 acres in this area, and it is here where Chubb seeks his respite from the growing fame football has brought him.
He has been roaming these grounds since he was old enough to walk. Nick’s parents divorced when he was 4 and his primary residence was 10 miles away with his mother, Lavelle, in Cedartown. But Henry had joint custody of his children, Henry Jr., Zachary, Nick and Neidra, and they’d almost always end up in Chubbtown when they stayed with Dad. Henry Chubb said his youngest son learned how to swim when he tossed him into Big Cedar Creek, just like his brothers.
“I’ve known this story my whole life,” Nick says. “I grew up in Cave Spring, which is maybe one minute outside of Chubbtown. So I grew up there, and my mom and dad used to tell us about it all the time. We used to go down there and visit the old church and the graveyard and the river that runs through it.”
Chubb Chapel is still an active church, 45 members strong, and Chubb served as an altar boy on Sundays. That’s what he was known for as a youth, the cute kid who lit the candles.
Nick Chubb is now a household name in the state of Georgia and recognizable coast-to-coast. That tends to happen when you rush for 1,547 yards and score 16 touchdowns as Chubb did as an SEC freshman. That most of it came after Chubb was thrown into action midseason after Georgia’s Heisman Trophy candidate, Todd Gurley, was suspended four games because of NCAA rules violations, just adds to the lore.
His father still shudders at the memory. He recalls that he was working when family friends Erwin and Charles Bagwell strode up and told him, “Have you heard? Nick’s starting tomorrow against Missouri.”
“I fell to my knees. I said, ‘my boy? They’re throwing my baby out there?!”
Henry’s “baby” came through just fine. He gained 174 yards on 42 touches — including 38 rushes — as the Bulldogs bulldozed the eventual SEC East champions 34-0 in Columbia. Chubb would not fail to gain 100 yards in a game the rest of the season, a period of eight games.
Chubb’s credits his success to the same thing that got Chubbtown built — hard work. Long before he ripped through defenses like paper mache, Chubb carved out a reputation for being a workout warrior
Even before he had access to high-tech weightlifting equipment, his mother tells of him finding discarded truck tires and running sprints with them tied around his waist with a rope. He famously spent his first spring break at Georgia back home in Cedartown lifting weights and training with his former high school teammates. A Vine video of him power-cleaning nearly 400 pounds went viral this summer.
“I think (his work ethic) is more impressive than what he does on the field,” said Georgia running backs coach Thomas Brown, who had a similar reputation when he played for the Bulldogs from 2004-07. “He doesn’t say anything. He just goes and works.”
Chubb’s football skills come to him naturally. His father played college ball at Valdosta State, where he was teammates with Jessie Tuggle. Henry Jr. played at Troy, and older brother Zachary played at the Air Force Academy until recently.
All of them were defensive backs. Nick Chubb has been a running back since youth league. And always a good one. He rushed for 5,411 yards and scored 79 touchdowns his final two seasons in high school.
Based on his career track, there could be some very big things out there in Chubb’s future. A year after succeeding a Heisman Trophy candidate, his name is included among every preseason watch list for 2015. Whether that comes is up to the fickle fortunes of college football.
But barring injury, a pro career at this point seems almost a certainty. Should NFL riches come his way, Chubb has some thoughts on how to invest it.
“That’s actually one of my retirement plans, to go down there and build some of those things back up,” Chubb said, grinning. “When I’m older, of course. But I’d get my family members to help me. We could go in there get things rebuilt and restructured and get things back to the way they used to be. That’s way down the line, though.”
It certainly has been done before.
Herschel Walker, 1980-82
There isn’t a bigger name in Georgia football history, the only player or coach to get his own page in the team’s media guide. He led the team to its most recent national championship, won its most recent Heisman, and was the last player to have his jersey retired.
When he left school, Walker had set 41 school records, 16 SEC records and 11 NCAA records. He still holds the Georgia and SEC marks for career rushing yards (5,259).
Walker left Georgia a year early to play for Donald Trump. Actually, Walker signed with the USFL’s New Jersey Generals before Trump bought the team, but Walker played for Trump’s team for three seasons, racking up 5,562 rushing yards as well as 1,484 receiving.
Walker’s NFL stint is more well-known for the 1989 trade to Minnesota that re-stocked the Dallas Cowboys for their Super Bowl runs. But Walker had a solid NFL career (8,225 rushing yards and 4,859), though not as spectacular as his college and USFL days.
Now 54, Walker has dabbled in MMA fighting, written a book about multiple-personality disorder and remained active around the Georgia program, visiting practice this spring to gush over Nick Chubb.
Lars Tate, 1984-87
The Indianapolis native was among the first in a long line to be saddled with the “next Herschel” moniker. It was an impossible comparison, but Tate did finish his career with the second-most rushing yards (3,017) in school history (later surpassed).
Since 1961, Tate is the only player at Georgia to lead the team in rushing and receiving, doing so in 1986.
Tampa Bay picked Tate in the second round of the NFL draft. He gained 1,056 yards in two seasons with the Bucs, then played in three games in 1990 with the Bears before his career ended.
Tate’s son, Donovan, became a baseball prospect and was the third overall pick of the 2010 draft.
Garrison Hearst, 1990-92
In only three seasons, Hearst moved past Tate for second on Georgia’s rushing list, and as a junior broke several of Walker’s single-season records, including rushing touchdowns (19) and yards per carry (6.8).
Hearst finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1992, the closest a Georgia player has come since Walker won it.
After a 12-year NFL career, which included four 1,000-yard seasons, Hearst settled in metro Atlanta, where he lives with his wife and four children.
Todd Gurley, 2012-14
It was obvious from the beginning of his career that the North Carolina native, a blend of great size, speed and agility, was special. In the preseason before Gurley’s freshman season, then-senior safety Shawn Williams said Gurley reminded him of Trent Richardson of Alabama. Some scoffed, but Gurley proved to be better than Richardson.
Gurley finished his career with 3,285 rushing yards, the second-most in program history, and that was in a career cut short by injuries, a four-game NCAA suspension, and the decision to turn pro.
Gurley’s career was bookended by 100-yard kickoff returns: One that counted (in his 2012 debut game) and one that was called back (early in last year’s win over Auburn).
-- Compiled by Seth Emerson
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH, OFFENSE
It’s easy to gloss over Michel, who was obscured last year by Nick Chubb’s success and has been overlooked this preseason because of Keith Marshall’s return to health. But a healthy Michel could emerge as a star this season.
He was right there with Chubb as a recruit and might have cut into his carries last season if he hadn’t hurt his shoulder. Michel offers a dynamic option out of the backfield, a speedy tailback who could be used on jet sweeps, screens, or in the Wildcat.
There’s been a lot of offseason buzz about McKenzie’s development as a receiver, and he reinforced it with a 72-yard catch-and-run in the spring game. Of course McKenzie pulled his hamstring at the end of that play, then missed the early portion of preseason practice with another hamstring injury. So staying on the field might be an issue.
McKenzie is only 5-foot-8, but fast and elusive. New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has said comparisons with Tavon Austin, who played for Schottenheimer with the St. Louis Rams, aren’t very far off.
The pressure on his junior was amped up considerably this summer when Georgia’s coaches decided he would be the team’s new center, rather than stay at left guard. Now Kublanow must: 1) make sure that the center exchange is the least of the new quarterback’s problems, 2) make the calls at the line, notice what the defense is doing and point out any necessary blocking adjustments, and 3) block the nose guard.
Georgia’s offensive line last season was its best in years. Whether Kublanow adjusts well to his new role could decide how good the line is this season.
-- Compiled by Seth Emerson
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH, DEFENSE
There’s a strong feeling around the team that Jenkins, who’s already been pretty good, is about to break through and have a monster senior season. The outside linebacker had five sacks each of his first three seasons, and exceeding that number seems a sure thing, barring injury. (And he’s never missed a game in his career.)
The main thing that held Jenkins back the past two seasons was being gameplanned against, and not being able to overcome it. If his teammates help him, Jenkins can become the face of Georgia’s defense.
Stardom has long been predicted for Floyd, a potential first-round pick, but a nagging shoulder injury prevented a full ascent last season. Many think his ceiling is higher than that of Jenkins, his fellow outside linebacker.
In fact defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt thinks so much of Floyd that he plans to use him at three positions: inside and outside linebacker, and star (or nickel back). Can he handle all that, while still becoming a regular presence in the opposing backfield?
While fellow sophomore Dominick Sanders is the glue guy in the secondary, Parrish is the one who could take the secondary to another level — but may have the most pressure on him.
Parrish’s playing time increased as last season went on, and this year will be asked to play cornerback and star. That could put him in a similar role to Damian Swann, the anchor of last season’s secondary who is now with the New Orleans Saints.
-- Compiled by Seth Emerson
THREE KEY PLAYERS LOST
A three-year starter at center, Andrews emerged as the emotional leader of last season’s offense, if not the entire team. He may be the lone starter gone from the offensive line, but he’s a big loss.
The coaches hope that by shifting a returning starter, Kublanow, to the center spot that they minimize Andrews’ loss. Isaiah Wynn, the highly regarded sophomore, takes the vacated spot at left guard. Georgia still has plenty of talent on the line; the trick will be replacing Andrews’ leadership and communication skills.
Conley was well-known for his off-field talents, including film directing, but he was also a productive football player: He led the team in receiving yards as a junior and senior. He could get downfield, he could make the tough catch for a first down, and he could block, as could Michael Bennett, another player who has moved on.
Georgia has plenty of young talent at receiver, but replacing the intangibles and consistency of Conley, as well as Bennett, will be tough to do immediately.
Damian Swann, cornerback
By his own admission, Swann had a rough 2013, but he quickly became the leader of Jeremy Pruitt’s secondary last season. Pruitt used him all over the field, even inside linebacker in dime packages.
Georgia had the nation’s fifth-ranked pass defense, a number slightly skewed by the running teams they faced, but there was no doubt the secondary was vastly improved, and Swann’s improvement was a major reason why. He leaves without an obvious replacement to become the shut-down corner.
-- Compiled by Seth Emerson
TWO FRESHMAN TO WATCH
How do you live up to being the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, as ranked by 247Sports? It’ll be hard right away, especially when you play defensive line in a 3-4, where one of the main jobs is swallowing up blocks, leading to greater glory for the linebackers.
Still, how this freshman does up front will mean a lot for Georgia’s defense, which hasn’t had a star on its line in several years. Thompson is very athletic for his size (6-4, 305) and will be used at end and tackle. Maybe he won’t put up huge stats right away, but his importance should still be felt.
Georgia has a potentially more explosive freshman receiver in Terry Godwin, but Chigbu has the body type and skill set to step into Conley and Bennett’s roles. And Georgia needs that if they’re going to keep running a pro-style offense, with its back-shoulder routes and occasional double-coverage.
But Chigbu, a New Orleans native, is more than just a big receiver who can block and get physical with defensive backs. He has enough speed and athleticism that Georgia could use him out of the slot or try to get him the ball deep.
-- Compiled by Seth Emerson
THREE STORYLINES FOR THE SEASON
No matter who starts the opener, the story won’t go away. Until someone clearly cements the job, every pass will be a referendum, every series important.
And even when someone does grab the job — if they do — the debates won’t go away. Hutson Mason could tell you that from personal experience. The backup quarterback, perhaps even the third quarterback, will likely become the most popular guy on the team every time the starter throws an interception.
Beyond the intrigue, however, lies the fact that quarterback play could dictate how far the Bulldogs go this season. If everything else goes as expected — a great running game, an improved defense, solid special teams — then the passing game becomes the difference between a great and a disappointing season.
Oh, and by the way, there’s this: Jacob Eason, perhaps the nation’s top quarterback recruit, is due to join the team in January. So this year’s quarterbacks have that hanging over their future too. Good luck.
Chubb’s Heisman campaign
Well, not an overt campaign, as Georgia doesn’t do that, and Chubb is overly modest. But if Chubb picks up where he left off, he could be right where Gurley was before his suspension: a front-runner for the Heisman.
The main obstacle for Chubb could be his fellow tailbacks. Michel and Marshall, if healthy, are too good to sit on the bench and will cut into Chubb’s workload. They were hurt last year, and Gurley was suspended and then hurt, which allowed Chubb to pile up the carries and the yards.
Then again, if a deep backfield pushes Georgia back to the SEC Championship game, then that will aid the campaign as well.
Winning a championship
Georgia fans don’t need to be reminded that their team hasn’t won the SEC in a decade, and hasn’t won the East since 2012. Never mind that Mark Richt has one of the better winning percentages in the country, and with five wins this season will pass Wally Butts for second on Georgia’s all-time list.
The fans are antsy for more, and finishing ranked No. 9 last season didn’t leave them with a great feeling.
This year the Bulldogs begin as the clear favorite in the East. That means anything but a trip to Atlanta likely will be seen as a disappointment, and even if that’s achieved, ending the SEC title drought will be considered a must by many.
-- Compiled by Seth Emerson
About the SEC
THREE RETURNING PLAYERS TO WATCH, OFFENSE
Nick Chubb, running back, Georgia
The SEC Freshman of the Year seemed to grow stronger as the season progressed as he finished with 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing, two more through the air.
With Chubb bludgeoning defenses, Georgia fans barely noticed that Todd Gurley, who is now with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, was hurt most of the season.
Chubb rushed for 202 yards against Arkansas, averaged 13.1 yards a carry in a win over Kentucky and then finished with 266 yards against Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Mississippi State
If you don’t know what the most talented quarterback in the SEC looks like, check out one of the regional covers of Sports Illustrated’s college football preview edition, which features Prescott.
The senior returns after leading the Bulldogs to one of the more successful seasons in school history, but could struggle to match his 2014 numbers.
That’s when he threw for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns passing and 986 yards and 14 more scores on the ground on the way to leading Mississippi State to the top spot in the AP poll for the first time.
Derrick Henry, running back, Alabama
If Nick Chubb and LSU’s Leonard Fournette are the SEC’s top running backs, then Henry is third on the list.
He’s shared time with T.J. Yeldon the past two years, but with Yeldon now in the NFL, Henry should be the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 backfield option after rushing for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014.
Henry has displayed explosiveness both running and receiving in his two seasons at Alabama, and his size — 6-foot-3, 242 pounds — gives the Tide a back who can grind between the tackles.
-- Compiled by Andy Johnston
THREE RETURNING PLAYERS TO WATCH, DEFENSE
Derek Barnett, defensive end, Tennessee
If fans and opponents didn’t know about Barnett before the year began, they certainly did by the time he finished his freshman season with 10 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss.
He dominated Ole Miss for three sacks and then gave the same treatment to South Carolina on his way to finishing 2014 with 18 tackles for loss against SEC opponents.
Barnett isn’t just a pass-rush specialist. He led all SEC freshmen with 72 tackles.
Vernon Hargreaves III, cornerback, Florida
Look at any list of the top defensive backs in the country, and you’ll find Hargreaves on it.
And that’s where he should be, he said at this summer’s SEC Media Days, where he called himself “the best corner in the country.”
Hargreaves has been one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC since early in his freshman season and was first-team All-America last year after he had three interceptions and broke up 13 passes.
Myles Garrett, defensive end, Texas A&M
Garrett surpassed Tennessee’s Derek Barnett when it came to sacks last season, setting the SEC freshman record with 11.5 in his first season at Texas A&M.
He’s big (6-5, 260), fast (4.46 in the 40), strong and athletic, constantly amazing his coaches and teammates with his feats of strength and freakish ability.
Garrett also led the Aggies with 14 tackles for loss and nine hurries and was second among Texas A&M defensive linemen with 53 tackles.
-- Compiled by Andy Johnston
THREE FRESHMEN TO WATCH
Byron Cowart, defensive end, Auburn
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp isn’t promising Cowart playing time, but it might be tough to keep him off the field.
Cowart was considered the nation’s top defensive recruit when he signed with the Tigers last winter, thanks to a career that included 185 tackles and 29 sacks at Armwood High near Tampa, Fla.
He has been impressive early at Auburn, but Muschamp said he will have to earn playing time.
That might not be too tough on a defense that ranked ninth in the SEC in total defense, 10th in scoring and 12th against the pass.
Martez Ivey, offensive lineman, Florida
Ivey is making a favorable impression at Florida, not only with his size (6-5, 302), but also with his mind.
Teammates have said Ivey wants to learn his position, which will come in handy, but he might be needed before his education is complete because of Florida’s thin line.
Ivey is from Apopka, near Orlando, but Florida had to overcome a close battle with Auburn to win the heart of the nation’s No. 1 offensive line recruit.
Kevin Toliver II, defensive back, LSU
LSU considers itself DBU — as in Defensive Back University — thanks to all the corners and safeties it sends to the NFL.
Welcome Kevin Toliver II.
He was one of five freshmen already working with the upperclassmen by LSU’s second practice this summer, but the Tigers might have the luxury of letting him watch and learn behind Ed Paris at one of the cornerback positions.
But then again, Toliver, who enrolled early and had a strong spring practice, could move ahead of Paris.
-- Compiled by Andy Johnston
TEAM MOST LIKELY TO OVERACHIEVE
Butch Jones has infused Tennessee’s program with a boundless sense of energy and optimism.
He’s also signed a couple of highly regarded recruiting classes and last season led the Volunteers to their first bowl win since 2007, in just his second season.
The Vols head into Jones’ third year with the attitude that they can win the SEC East and compete for the conference title, which also hasn’t happened since 2007.
“The expectations are a little bit different than what we had in the past, but that’s what we want,” Jones said this summer. “That’s why these players came to the University of Tennessee and wanted to be a part of a program that has very high expectations.”
Much depends on the continued improvement of quarterback Josh Dobbs, the offensive line, which allowed an SEC-worst 43 sacks in 2014, and if the Vols can survive a tough schedule that includes home games against Oklahoma and Georgia, and trips to Florida, Alabama and Missouri.
TEAM MOST LIKELY TO UNDERACHIEVE
Although expectations will fall after the injury to running back Jonathan Williams, don’t be fooled by Arkansas and running back Alex Collins, its experienced quarterback and an impressive bowl win over Texas.
The Razorbacks will struggle to survive their schedule.
They’re coming off a season in which they ended a 17-game SEC losing streak and won seven games, but are still 2-14 in the conference under coach Bret Bielema.
“It’s not where we want to be, but it’s a good launching point,” quarterback Brandon Allen told CBSSports.com at SEC Media Days. “We’re on the rise. We’re doing good things. We’re not happy about the 7-6 season, but we’re happy with the way we’re headed.”
But only two of those victories were against SEC teams and the Razorbacks must figure out a way to start piling up conference wins.
They play Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, and at Tennessee, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU this season, so Arkansas might want to keep its expectations in check.
-- Compiled by Andy Johnston
College football preview
The college football season is upon us.
The 9th-ranked Bulldogs open the season at noon Saturday, Sept. 5, at home against Louisiana-Monroe.
Find an expanded look at the college football season in Sunday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution.