Here were two top-10 high school running backs — Michel the nation’s No. 2 back, Chubb ranked seventh — meeting for the first time as both Georgia commits and East squad teammates, yet they were rendered mostly speechless around one another.
No meaningful camaraderie.
No playful trash talk.
Instead of the standard get-to-know-your-future-teammate portion of the all-star festivities, Chubb and Michel used their first encounter with each other — which stretched over a few days in the Lone Star State — to exchange pleasantries and the occasional handshake or bro hug.
Now, they bowl.
“When I say bowling, we go out there and compete,” Michel said.
There’s the lean, elusive Michel with his maroon ball with gold stripes and the bulkier Chubb sporting his navy blue ball. Michel tries to initiate trash talk with the less talkative Chubb, but it usually backfires against Chubb’s steadier game.
Michel’s own lightning speed might be symbolized by his bowling ball’s golden stripes, but he’s still playing catch-up to the quiet pin killer that is Chubb when the two hit the lanes.
“I’m very inconsistent,” Michel said.
This outing has become their thing since the beginning of the summer. Over the past few months, the strangers turned teammates turned roommates have grown even closer in their final year together in Athens. Others have tried to join the two in the alley, but like the many unlucky defenders who have crossed this duo’s path during the past four years, they can’t keep up.
“They try to compete, but you come out here, you’re gonna get it,” a straight-faced Michel said.
Chubb and Michel have done 180s with their relationship, while spinning 160s in the bowling alley and continuing to carve up opposing defenses on their way to historic numbers with the Bulldogs.
In four years together, including one shortened by a freak Chubb knee injury, these two have accumulated for 7,958 career rushing yards, second all-time to SMU’s Eric Dickerson’s and Craig James’ 8,193 from 1979-82.
These Dawgs are pulling close to and could soon pass the Pony Express for dynamic duo supremacy, meaning that, win or lose, during Monday’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual against No. 2 Oklahoma (5 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN App), the two backs who were either too shy or too disinterested in properly meeting each other four years ago will soon end their collegiate careers as one of the best running back pairs the sport has ever seen.
“It’d be great to break [the running duo rushing record],” Chubb said shortly before posing underneath Michel’s rose gold iPhone for a quick picture. “It’d just be nice for both of us, who come from two different places and [are] close and have a chance to do something special.”
Self-proclaimed mama’s boys, Chubb and Michel say they owe their road to the Rose Bowl — and into the history books — to the sacrifices their mothers made years ago.
Michel’s journey to Athens, Georgia, began when his mother, Marie, made the decision to leave her home country of Haiti for a better life in the United States in 1990.
At 23 and with an 18-month-old daughter, Marie took the risk on immigrating to the United States. Unable to begin her journey with her daughter, Marie headed to the Bahamas for three months before her cousin helped her pile into a small boat with 13 other immigrants for a six-hour, middle-of-the-night boat ride to Miami that was so crowded she nearly spilled over into the Atlantic Ocean, her hand trailing in the water the entire time.
“I left for a better life,” Marie said. “If God is always with me, I can get the better life.
“I said, ‘God, you got my life.’”
Marie’s sister picked her up in Miami and drove her to Orlando. There, she worked whatever jobs she could find, including housekeeping at a hotel and picking oranges in an orange garden. Four years later, she made enough to bring her daughter, Lamise, to Orlando.
“If you can’t move, you don’t have a choice. You have to withstand,” Marie said. “But if you can find a way to leave that country, you have to.”
Marie met her husband, Jean Michel — who immigrated from Haiti to the U.S. in 1986 — in Orlando in 1991. Their first son, Marken, was born in 1993 and Sony Michel was born in 1995, when the family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Sony Michel enrolled at American Heritage, a private school in Plantation, Florida, as a seventh-grader, but shortly after the start of his eighth grade year, both of his parents lost their jobs a month apart. Marie said they lived on about $400 a month on unemployment.
With help from Michel’s football coaches, his parents began working at American Heritage to pay for their sons’ tuition. Jean became the school custodian, while Marie and Lamise worked in the kitchen — where they still work today.
“I really tried for my children,” Marie said. “I always tell them, ‘Let me feel your pain, but I don’t want you to have pain.’”
Michel said he owes his success to Marie’s determination and hopes that football, which helped stabilize his family, can give her the better life she set out for when she left Haiti.
“It’s the ultimate sacrifice,” Michel said, “and it’s why I do what I do. Their sacrifice makes me remember that everything I do is for them.
“Whether I play football [in the NFL] or not, I’m going to take care of them whichever way I can because they took care of me.”
In Cedartown, Georgia, Lavelle Chubb raised her three children as a single mother. To provide for them, she worked two jobs. First, was her full-time job at a pain clinic an hour and a half away in Atlanta. Then, she would work part-time jobs, which ranged from something in the medical field to fast-food restaurant positions every weekend.
There were Friday nights where she’d have a full day of work before going to her part-time job in Cedartown and then go back to Atlanta to work concessions at a high school football game. She’d usually get back home around 1 a.m. and have to wake up and go back to her full-time job Saturday morning.
“The one job just didn’t pay the bills and I had to make sure they had what they needed for school,” Lavelle Chubb said.
Lavelle, who juggled being both parents for three kids, admits she’s the “backbone” for her kids and made sure they grew up constantly active. Whether that meant sports or family vacations that pushed the limits of her wallet, Lavelle Chubb wanted her kids to enjoy their upbringing and limit their worry.
Nick Chubb took notice. He saw his mother constantly struggling and it motivated him to add plates to his workouts or push an extra sled in practice. He ran harder, angrier, in games and it’s motivated him every step of the way during his four years at Georgia.
“I owe everything to my mom,” Chubb said. “She sacrificed so much so me and my brother and sister could have things that we needed and some things we just wanted.
“She’s worked her tail off for years so it’d be great to be able to pay her back for everything she’s done for me.”
Chubb and Michel grew together through the pain of fall camp. Two wide-eyed freshmen with all those high school accolades now afterthoughts, Chubb and Michel began to bond over trying to figure the college athlete thing out.
Arriving with lead back aspirations, they never complained when one either played more or was more of a focus in practice. Michel was the more decorated high school player, but Chubb got the first crack at stardom after starting back Todd Gurley’s 2014 season was cut short because of an NCAA suspension and an ACL injury.
As true freshmen, Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards in 13 games (eight starts) while Michel got his start on special teams and rushed for 410 yards.
A year later, it was Michel leading the way as Chubb’s replacement with 1,161 yards after Chubb suffered a gruesome knee injury in the sixth game of the season.
Michel, who began living with Chubb a year later, became one of his closest allies and biggest supporters/motivators during his rehab.
Chubb now says the two “do everything together” and they’ve welcomed each other into their private lives, with Michel making it to Cedartown for dinner.
“His family is my family and vice versa,” Michel said.
Coincidentally, in the two years as roommates, Chubb and Michel have worked with consecutive true freshmen starting quarterbacks. Because of that, they’ve become even bigger focal points of the offense, combining for 4,093 yards and 38 touchdowns on 698 carries. They’ve averaged a staggering 170.5 yards per game in the 24 games they played with each other during the past two seasons.
“Iron sharpens iron, and I don’t think they’d be the players they are today without each other,” tight end Jeb Blazevich said.
As Chubb puts it, these two feed off each other’s success.
“When we became close, you want to see him do good, not bad,” Chubb said.
“We don’t care about [who has] the ball. We do a good job of sharing it around, and it’s all fun.”
Since Chubb exploded as a freshman, Michel, who some believe is the better pro prospect of the two, has spent most of his Georgia career living somewhat in his roommate’s shadow. The stats and national recognition have mostly belonged to Chubb, who is second all-time in the SEC with 4,599 rushing yards — 660 yards behind Georgia great Herschel Walker. His 23 games with 100 yards or more on the ground ranks second behind only Walker’s 28 for most in school history.
None of that discourages Michel, who said he enjoys Chubb’s success and doesn’t worry about stats or workload. He understands that the better Chubb is the better he is and the better the Dawgs are.
“I’m willing to do whatever to help the team,” Michel said.
“You don’t have to be the lead back to make plays. If you get the ball two times, make two plays — make two big plays.”
Big plays have been the staple of these two backs, who’ve been the offensive foundation for a Georgia team that’s a win away from the school’s first Rose Bowl win since 1942 and its first national championship appearance since winning it all behind Walker’s legs in 1980.
Monday, Georgia will have two sets of Herschel-like legs rumbling up and down that lush Rose Bowl grass with the goal of mistreating Oklahoma’s defense like so many other defenses before it. Whether this is the last ride or not for Georgia’s dynamic duo, the mark these two have left together won’t soon be forgotten.
“Nick and Sony, they’re UGA legends,” quarterback Jake Fromm said. “They’ve done stuff at the University of Georgia that nobody has kind of ever done together.
“When in doubt, I’m going to give the ball to Nick Chubb or Sony Michel.”