MEET THE NEW GUY: Darvon Hubbard moves in as Willow Canyon’s first elite recruit, earns leadership role

Willow Canyon senior tailback Darvon Hubbard poses for a photograph on June 13 at the high school in Surprise. He transferred in from Scottsdale Chaparral in November and has 19 NCAA Division I scholarship offers. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Allow Darvon Hubbard to dismantle your preconceived notions of behavior for young star athletes.

The senior tailback with scholarship offers from almost half the SEC does not appear in interviews to be dismayed at transferring the marquee — albeit tumultuous — Scottsdale Chaparral program to largely anonymous Willow Canyon. More importantly, Wildcats coach Justin Stangler said, he has been all in every day at lifting sessions, practices and other team functions.

“He’s been the same kid from day one until now. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and knows what he wants to do,” Stangler said. “Darvon is very low key off the field.”

Because of his work ethic and attitude, every bit as much as his four-star talent, Hubbard is already among the team’s senior leadership core.

“People respect leaders and resent bosses. He’s a leader. He won’t get on a kid for anything he wouldn’t do. And he gets on himself too,” Stangler said.

For his part, Hubbard did not sweat his second change in address during high school. He moved from Akron, Ohio to Scottsdale before his sophomore season and led Chaparral in rushing that fall.

Hubbard was rolling to start his junior season, rushing for 502 yards in less than four full games. But his ankle injury midway through that fourth game, where he had nine carries for 115 yards and two touchdowns against rival Saguaro, hampered his effectiveness later in 2018.

His family moved to Surprise during the season.

“It just got to be too far. There’s a lot of traffic out there because everybody is going that way. I was getting to school at the end of first period or the start of second period,” Hubbard said.

When he arrived, he did not know much about the city’s three high schools or their football programs.The last eight months at the Willow Canyon campus in western Surprise have been a pleasant surprise.

He said the number of under the radar athletes out here was greater than he expected.

“Coming here, I feel, was a great decision. They welcomed me with open arms. We’ve got a great program and great coaches. I can’t wait to see what the season brings,” Hubbard said.

For a program that went 4-6 in Stangler’s first year and graduated 23 seniors, Hubbard’s arrival could not have come at a better time.

Then again, any day is good to welcome a player with offers from 19 colleges — including heavyweights like Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Tennessee.

“Honestly having Darvon as a part of our program has been one of the biggest and best things that’s happened in a while,” senior quarterback Josh Ormond said. “Having him opens up the passing game. Last year, we couldn’t really run the ball like we wanted to. We’re hoping to punch the ball a little more so it opens up the passing game.”

Backfield mates Hubbard and Ormond have been at the forefront of this senior class taking ownership of the team.

Ormond said this class is trying to make a different program this year, and so far this summer there have been only one or two times that coaches had to tell players what to do.

“This is maybe the best team leadership I’ve seen since I was (an assistant) at Cactus. We’ve got Darvon and Josh, kids that are stepping up into that role. There’s chemistry with this group,” Stangler said.

Hubbard already sounds like a coach, talking about developing character out and change the culture for the kids that play at Willow Canyon in future years.

“The coaches are very hard on us and want to help us grow. Their drive is to help us become better on and off the field. They want us to be respectful young men and do well in the classroom,” Hubbard said.

The arrival of a star recruit led to more major college coaches visiting Willow Canyon than ever before, then making side trip to nearby schools to discover younger players or check out another name 2020 recruit — Valley Vista offensive tackle Andrew Rumary.

Shortly after he moved in, all parties involved agreed that this transfer was borne out of a family move rather than a football decision. Therefore, Hubbard is expected to be eligible for the entire season, not having to miss his first five games as is typical when a transfer is contested.

“It was a big relief. This is my last year of high school football. Knowing I won’t have to sit out is great because I get to help my team make it to the playoffs and make everybody around me better,” Hubbard said.

Stangler will not make a similar prediction out loud. But, he said Hubbard clearly changes the ceiling of offensive coordinator James Carter’s attack. Last season’s offense, particularly early, was often an all or nothing proposition.

No running back received more than 13 carries in the first five games.

That changed a bit once senior Connor Ball became eligible after transferring in from Copper Canyon. He toted the ball 31 times for 310 yards in his first two games, both wins.

Stangler and Carter already wanted to move in that direction. Now they can do so with a prototypical tailback.

“We can slow down the game a little bit if we want. There’s a lot of different things we can do,” Stangler said.

He said Hubbard is developing a chemistry with a young offensive line. Kyndric Picklesimer is the only returning starter, though seniors Isaac Miglio and Jacob Bruce have some experience.

Ormond and receiving corps will have more time and space in the passing game.

While not a burner with 4.4 speed in the 40, Hubbard is still plenty fast. And at near six feet tall and 200 pounds, he is not a spread offense scatback.

He’s not a six-yard plowhorse either — Hubbard has vision, cutback ability, durability and burst that separate a tailback from an athlete playing tailback.

“He’s got that running back mentality. He can change directions and makes great reads. He can run around you or run over you,” Stangler said.

That is why several major colleges were thrilled to hear Hubbard had decommitted from Ohio State this spring, in the wake of Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer retiring. He said he has not ruled out a homecoming, though he just made an official visit to Big Ten rival Purdue.

Hubbard said he is interested in studying sports medicine or engineering. He competed in several engineering fairs in middle school and has an uncle who works as an engineer.

“I’ll just go with the flow. I don’t really try to stress myself out. I’ll let things fall into place and I know that God will lead me to the right position,” Hubbard said.

Chaparral running back Darvon Hubbard (6) rushes into the end zone for one of his two scores during Chaparral’s 35-16 win over Desert Mountain Aug. 24 in Scottsdale. Hubbard enrolled at Willow Canyon in Surprise last November.[Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez]

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