Smart wasn’t referring to just Chubb’s grit and determination. He based his prediction on a conversation he had with Georgia’s longtime sports medicine director Ron Courson about the injury Chubb suffered during a Monday Night Football game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chubb took a shot from Steelers’ defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick directly on the left knee that was thoroughly shattered in a game against Tennessee while playing for the Bulldogs in 2015.
Less than one year later, Chubb returned to rush for 222 yards and score a game-clinching, 55-yard touchdown in a win over North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. That was Smart’s first game as Georgia’s head coach.
After reconstructive surgery in 2015, Courson oversaw Chubb’s entire treatment and rehabilitation regimen. Courson told Smart he thinks Chubb can come back again.
“He’s an incredible human being first and foremost,” Smart said. “What kid goes back to their high school weight room, strength coach, program and track and works out like he does? It’s very rare in the sports world to find someone as humble and as great of a person as he is.”
It turned out that 2016 season was just a sneak preview of Chubb for Smart. Chubb and teammate Sony Michel both decided to return for their senior seasons to give their championship dreams one more shot under Smart. The Bulldogs rode the running backs’ coattails all the way to the College Football Playoff championship game, where they narrowly lost to Alabama in overtime.
Chubb ran for 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2017. After getting drafted in the second round by Browns, Chubb left Athens wearing an SEC championship ring.
“I thought it was in his best interest to come back, but he certainly did UGA a favor returning,” Smart said. “What an outstanding year he had.”
With the Browns, Chubb quickly became one of the NFL’s best running backs. After coming up four yards short as a rookie, Chubb put up five consecutive 1,000-yard-plus rushing seasons, with a career high 1,525 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. He was well on his way this year with a 6.1 yards-per-carry average and 170 rushing yards in 1½ games.
So far the Browns have confirmed only that Chubb is out for the season and will require surgery.
“Very disappointed for Nick,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Means a lot to this team, means a lot to this organization, so he will be missed. But he will bounce back. Of that I have no doubt.”
Smart is sure of that, whether he hears back from Chubb anytime soon or not.
“I know he’s probably flooded with all kinds of people reaching out to him, so no expectation there in return,” Smart said. “Just a lot of respect for him and what he did for this program in terms of toughness, buy-in and giving back.”