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'He was just a machine': How Bradley Chubb attacked his first ACL rehab

Bradley Chubb poses with his high school football coach, Phillip Ironside, at Hillgrove High School in 2018.
Bradley Chubb poses with his high school football coach, Phillip Ironside, at Hillgrove High School in 2018.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Bradley Chubb has dealt with this before.

He's suffered a major injury before, he's had surgery before, and he's rehabbed before.

Chubb has returned before.

Nearly seven years to the day before the Broncos' outside linebacker suffered a partial ACL tear against the Jaguars, Chubb tore the same ACL on a high school football field in Smyrna, Georgia.

"That was my first injury," Chubb said Tuesday. "Like I said, it made me who I am today. I remember I was in the hospital bed, and I didn't know if I was going to get college offers and stuff like that and look where I am now. I can only imagine what this injury is going to do for me. I'm 23 years old. I'm still young, only in my second year, and so I'm just excited to get back and get into the rehab process. 2012 to now is 10 times different. I know I'm going to be back even better."

On a September evening in 2012, Chubb was beginning to find his rhythm as a junior defensive end for the Hillgrove Hawks. He had only recently switched to the position after spending time at linebacker and a few other positions.

His high school head coach, Phillip Ironside, had wanted Chubb to start as defensive end as a freshman, but the future fifth-overall pick resisted the move.

"He kind of balked at it and wanted to be other things, because he was a running back in middle school," Ironside told on Tuesday. "He had always been a kid that had been on his feet. He was a basketball player, and he was a good athlete. But you could just look at him and tell he was going to be big and long and that's who he is [now].

"That [season] was the first time we got him to do it. That was about the time he started having success doing it, and then he gets hurt. It was kind of a setback for all of us."

Chubb said he suffered the non-contact injury while running during a play — and it ended his junior season.

But Ironside said Chubb "knew what his mission was" as he attacked the rehab process.

"He was just on a grind after that," Ironside said. "He was doing what he could do to get back. It wasn't like he was moping for a while, was down and out for a while. It was just 'This is the path I've got to [take],' and he did it."

Chubb returned faster than Ironside could have imagined.

"Probably what sticks out the most is just his rehab and how quick he was back doing things and on the exercise bike," Ironside said. "He was just a machine getting back in shape. He worried about [his knee early] as a senior, and then once he got comfortable and got it out of his mind, he played really, really well."

Indeed, Chubb played well enough to earn a scholarship offer to NC State, become the Wolfpack's all-time sack leader and get drafted with the fifth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

As Chubb now aims to rehab his left knee for the second time in his career, he has a path to follow during his recovery.

"For sure, it helps me know what mindset to have," Chubb said. "... I knew who was there for me that first time. The same people are going to be there for me this time. I'm just excited, like I said, to go along this journey and have everybody right there with me."

And Ironside said he doesn't expect the process or the outcome to be any different.

"I still think his family dynamic and who they are, what they are and how he was raised will play the biggest part," Ironside said. "I think he's handled the success very well … [and] he's been able to handle the downs. He's been there before. He wasn't a superstar; he wasn't a highly recruited guy. Things probably didn't go the way he would've scripted it, and he ended up being the fifth pick in the draft.

"I'm going to say he's going to bounce back from this and be fine."

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