The wildly entertaining rise of Bradley Chubb and NC State

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- Even as a toddler, Bradley Chubb had a motor. He'd sit down in front of the TV to watch cartoons, and a few minutes later he'd be crawling around the couch, bounding from one end to the other. He'd pick on his older brother -- a slap or a bite -- just to get his attention, then rumble back into the arms of his mother, Stacey, knowing he'd get off easy because he was the baby. To get him to nap, Stacey would lie down next to him, and wrap her arms around him like a straitjacket, tethering him to her chest. Still, Chubb would twist and squirm and flop. Eventually Stacey started singing to him, the tune from "Winnie the Pooh" that so perfectly encapsulated her son's personality. "The wonderful thing about Tiggers ..."

His top was made out of rubber, his bottom made out of springs. He was jumpy, bumpy and thumpy. He couldn't help himself.

"My mom called me Tigger," Chubb said, "because I was always bouncing around all the time. I've always had a lot of energy."

Nearly two decades later, Chubb saunters into the NC State weight room, and the strength staff hops into action. Someone will click on hip-hop -- Young Thug, Future, "the down South stuff," strength coach Dantonio Burnette said -- and then they'll watch Chubb electrify the room.

Whatever 300-pound B.J. Hill bench presses, Chubb wants to match it. Whatever 325-pound O-lineman Will Richardson squats, Chubb wants to give it a try, too. The entire time, Chubb is dancing and singing along. Before long, every player in the room has joined the chorus.

Coach Dave Doeren calls Chubb "the catalyst," a title the Wolfpack defensive end isn't quite comfortable repeating, but it's a title he has earned. In the weight room, in the locker room, on the field -- as Chubb goes, so goes NC State. And Chubb goes at only one speed.

"Chubb is the energy guy," Burnette said. "He comes in with the juice."

That juice has helped Chubb rack up 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss -- both sixth nationally -- while boosting his NFL cachet. It's also helped drive an NC State resurgence, with the Wolfpack ranked in the AP top 15 for the first time since 2003. And Chubb and the Wolfpack will put that juice to the test Saturday against No. 9 Notre Dame before returning home for a chance to take control of the ACC Atlantic against No. 7 Clemson.

That, teammate Justin Jones said, is easy to get excited about.

"You see the success he's had," said Jones, who grew up near Chubb outside Atlanta. "It's like, this is the blueprint."

Here's Chubb's blueprint: He was the youngest in a football family, and he grew up playing with the bigger kids. His older brother, Brandon -- later a star linebacker at Wake Forest -- and his cousins tormented Bradley, right up until Bradley learned to fight back.

"We all have chips on our shoulders," Brandon Chubb said, "but that was his chip, that little brother complex."

Bradley Chubb arrived at NC State in 2014, a wiry 225 pounds, all raw talent and unhinged energy. As a freshman, he got stuck at linebacker. It was the only way to get him on the field, but he still didn't see much action. He was frustrated and apathetic and lost.

That's the thing about Chubb's energy. Football had always been the release, the chance for him to spend 60 minutes playing with reckless abandon and, even better, to showcase that energy for an adoring crowd.

"I would run to the ball to make tackles just to get my name called on the intercom," he said, "just so someone would notice me."

That all worked against him early at NC State. He was playing out of position, playing sporadically, playing poorly.

Chubb wasn't alone. That 2014 team was chock full of talented kids whom Doeren had landed in his first true recruiting class, but they were raw and undisciplined and undersized. The growing pains were brutal.

In 2015, NC State floundered amid high expectations. In 2016, the Wolfpack were clearly improved, but one heartbreaking loss after another -- to Clemson, to Florida State, to ECU -- overwhelmed most of the success. But behind the scenes, there was real progress.

Chubb had blossomed. That high motor found direction. Doeren had moved Chubb back to defensive end in 2015, and it was a perfect fit. In the weight room, Chubb bulked up -- he's now close to 280 -- and became a force as a power rusher. And all that enthusiasm caused others to gravitate toward him. This was still work, but with Chubb, it felt like something else -- a group project, perhaps.

Chubb wasn't just a leader of his position group either. He's roommates with players on the offense. He works out with members of the O-line. He's the guy everybody gets along with, and so everyone has had the chance to grow up with him.

Sketch it all out, and the blueprint is starting to look like a finished product. The player, rough and unrefined, finding his niche through sheer determination. The program, overlooked and undisciplined, finally emerging as a serious contender.

He's the catalyst for a reason. As Chubb goes, so goes NC State. And they're both ascendant.

"It's been three long years, and a lot of heartbreak," Chubb said. "It's about keeping fighting. Me and this program have a lot in common. We've been through a lot to get where we are."

'It's Bradley ... He's having fun'

It was a goal-line play, and Syracuse QB Eric Dungey was on the ground when Chubb gave him a late push for good measure. This riled up offensive lineman Airon Servais, who, predictably shoved Chubb to the ground.

Chubb saw it coming, and thought to himself, "Sell it."

He'd flopped against Vanderbilt in last year's bowl, and that one was good. He did it against Clemson last season, too, and the referee scolded him for it.

This flop, though, it was a thing of beauty, a work of art made for the GIF age.

Syracuse coach Dino Babers compared Chubb's flop to NBA legend Vlade Divac, but that completely undersells the comic value. This was a Chevy Chase on "Saturday Night Live" pratfall. It was genius.

He tumbled backward, flailing his hands in the air in a moment of hyperbolic exasperation. He landed on his rear end, just outside the end zone. He snuck a peek at the official, raised his hands again, and rolled -- three more times! -- for effect, as if some invisible force had sent him spiraling all over again.

"The extra two rolls were unnecessary," Chubb admits. "But it's just having fun."

To be sure, if Chubb is playing football, he's having fun, and from practice-field dance routines to the Oscar-worthy flops, his teammates absolutely love it.

"It's Bradley," Jones said. "I know him. He's having fun. If he's not having fun, it's going to be a bad day."

Luckily, there aren't many of those days. Chubb loves every minute of this ride. It's what he always dreamed of doing.

Chubb's dad, Aaron, played at Georgia, and growing up, college football was ubiquitous in their house.

There was a room dubbed the Georgia room, where Aaron's jerseys were framed and hung on the wall, and everything from the lamps to the carpet was decorated with Bulldogs logos. Both Brandon and Bradley excelled on the field growing up, and after each season, their jerseys, too, would go in a frame and be added to the Georgia room, alongside, Stacey is quick to add, their academic honors. This is where the Chubb boys fell in love with the game. They wanted to be like Dad.

"We wanted to be on that same stage," Brandon Chubb said. "So now, it's just a blessing, and [Bradley] always has a smile on his face. He's living it to the fullest."

Watch him explode down the field after teammate Nyheim Hines returned a punt for a touchdown against Pittsburgh. Doeren had asked Chubb earlier in the week to work on punt block, and Hines' TD was really just an afterthought. The celebration was for simpler reasons.

"I was just happy to be out there," he said.

Later in the same game, Chubb dislocated his finger. He felt it jam, looked down, and saw his pinkie pointing at a 90-degree angle from his other three fingers. For a few moments, he writhed on the field in pain -- for real this time. Then he went to the sideline, got taped up and went back into the game. By the following Wednesday, he was showing off the damage to anyone who cared to look, thrilled to have a battle scar worthy of his effort.

Or if you really want to see Chubb at work, watch the Florida State game. It was a signature victory for NC State, a potentially program-defining victory. Chubb was dominant, racking up seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. But what really stands out is the way Chubb stalked the sideline, for the entirety of the game, hyping teammates on offense and defense, preaching the gospel of fun.

"We had to get over the hump, and that was the hump we talked about so much," Chubb said. "It just happened. The emotions of being out on that field. I was just walking up and down and cheering my guys on. I knew for us to win, someone had to be that positive influence, and I wanted it to be me."

Who else would it be?

Chubb's teammates have heard all of it before. They hear it every day. It's routine. He runs out to practice, charges onto the field, and yells to the heavens: "I love this!"

"And it's infectious," Doeren said. "How can your best player be like that and everybody else not work hard?"

'I came back to prove something to myself and to the world'

Stacey Chubb was at NC State's fan day earlier this fall when it hit her. She'd been to these before, but this year, the line to get an autograph from her son stretched on forever, NC State fans all wanting to get his name scratched on posters that featured Chubb prominently.

"I just thought, this year is going to be different," she said.

Bradley Chubb nearly missed it all. When last season ended, he gave serious thought to departing for the NFL. His talent was already obvious, and a payday awaited.

But then Chubb thought about what 2017 might be like at NC State. He'd arrived on campus with so many of these guys -- Jones and B.J. Hill and Tony Adams. He'd endured one bitter loss after another with them. He desperately wanted to see how the story ended.

"I came here and started something with these guys, and I knew it wasn't over," Chubb said. "I came back to prove something to myself and to the world."

By fan day, there were plenty of folks already convinced -- if not about NC State's prospects for the College Football Playoff, then certainly of Chubb's chances to blossom into a household name.

That moment at fan day was when it occurred to his mom, too. Her boy wasn't just a football player. He was the best football player on a team that had high aspirations, an NFL talent giving one more year to his college.

When Chubb finished the autograph session, Stacey pulled him aside for a talk.

"I don't want you to forget who you are," she told him.

Be humble, she said. Be kind. Be ready to work.

Still, the spotlight can be awfully bright, and even his mom's advice couldn't prepare Chubb for all that would entail.

What most people around the country remember of Chubb's performance against Florida State isn't the sacks or fumble or the sideline pep talks. It's the spit take on the Seminoles' logo.

Afterward, Chubb insisted it was an accident, not an intentional slight of the Seminoles. He took to social media to note his respect for coach Jimbo Fisher and Florida State's program. He assured it was just bad timing -- the cameras catching a common act on the field at the worst possible moment.

And if that was the entire story, Chubb might've been upset about it. But the season has moved on, and he's writing a far grander narrative.

NC State is 6-1, enjoying a success the program hasn't tasted in years. Chubb's pro stock has skyrocketed, and he's now projected to be a first-round pick. A few weeks ago, the Chubbs were all in the stands for the Wolfpack's game against Louisville, when they got text messages from friends watching the TV feed. A few dozen rows behind them, a contingent of shirtless fans had spelled out "Chubb for Heisman" across their chests.

Still, his line of fans isn't relegated to just NC State's fan day.

Babers raved about Chubb's impact on the game far beyond that flop.

Burnette said Chubb's ability puts him right up with NC State great Mario Williams.

Dave Clawson, who coached Brandon Chubb at Wake Forest, raved about Bradley, comparing him to Vic Beasley Jr. and DeMarcus Walker.

"He's been poison for us since Year 1," Clawson said. "He's given us as many problems in pass protection as any end in the conference."

Tell Chubb all of this though, and he shrugs. It's not that he doesn't appreciate the intent. And it's not that he doesn't understand the greatness of guys like Williams or Beasley. It's just that, he doesn't see any of this as the end game.

The fun, the energy, all the work in the weight room, it's for something more. One of the greats? No, that's not nearly good enough.

"It's cool, but they said I was up there, but they didn't say I was the best," Chubb said. "I want to be the one they're talking about. I want to be the comparison. That's a feeling of success."