It's not every day that you see a drafted NFL player who missed his entire rookie season with an injury and then retired — only to come back to the game after missing a season.
But that's what happening with former Kansas State defensive end Wyatt Hubert, who was a two-time first-team All Big-12 player in Manhattan before being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the seventh round (235th overall) in the 2021 NFL Draft. After suffering a torn pectoral muscle that July, he missed his entire rookie season — and then retired last August.
But over the weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs hosted Hubert for a tryout during their rookie minicamp — and after the final session on Monday, put him in front of the media.
"I was working a regular job," he recalled of the 2022 season, "living a regular life. I worked probably five to six months. About the last two months, I started to think back. It was really hard to watch a football game just knowing my close friends [who] are on teams — who are playing — [while I'm] just watching a game, kind of knowing that I could do that, too."
But he says that didn't necessarily make it an easy decision to make.
"There's a lot of things that went into it," he explained. "Injuries were the main thing. I've had a lot of surgeries. A lot of times, once you're cleared, people are expecting you to be fully healthy, fully cleared — and to be pain-free once you're cleared. That's not necessarily how it works... There was just such a build-up of things — prior injuries — that just were long-lasting; [they] never went away. So it was tough."
Hubert also knew getting back into the league wouldn't be easy. But after discussing it, he and his agent worked out a plan. After all... during Hubert's three-year career in Manhattan, he had collected 94 tackles (72 solo, 33 for loss), 20 sacks, an interception, two passes defended and three forced fumbles. Surely, there was at least one NFL team that would give him a chance.
"[My agent] went to the Combine [and] brought up my name during the whole combine process," said Hubert. "He mentioned my name to a few teams. We had our fingers crossed, hoping that a few teams would give me an opportunity. Three teams did — with the Chiefs being one."
Then it was just a matter of being in shape when he had the opportunity to try out with the interested teams. But Hubert hadn't even allowed himself to get out of shape; he had never stopped working out.
"Even though I wasn't playing football," he said, "I always treated myself like an athlete — in the weight room, with my diet and everything I did. I still took all that very seriously every single day. So that definitely helped my transition back into football."
Hubert still has two other teams — one in the AFC, one in the NFC — that want him to come in for a tryout. (He says he's been advised not to identify them). But the native of Topeka, Kansas certainly sounded like he'd prefer an opportunity to play for the Chiefs. Like the team's first-round pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah (also a former K-State defensive end), Hubert has spent his whole life as a Chiefs fan.
"It's crazy," he declared. "Wearing an arrowhead on my chest is definitely special. It's like wearing a Wildcat on my chest, too. So it's crazy. [I] definitely think we'll be here."
But first, the Chiefs will have to decide if the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Hubert (who will turn 25 before the season begins) is worth a spot on the team's 90-man offseason roster. The team's decision to put him in front of reporters on Monday is actually a pretty good sign that the team remains interested.
And however it plays out, Hubert isn't looking back.
"It was a tough decision," he reiterated. "But I decided this is such a short window in my life, why not take advantage of the opportunity — and just give it my all?"