Before the NFL draft, Chris Hubbard spoke with one of his best friends from high school -- a friend who was expected to be drafted in the first round.
Hubbard, a guard, told Jarvis Jones, a linebacker, that they would soon be facing each other on opposite sides of the ball.
In a way, he was right. In Steelers training camp, Hubbard and Jones are on the field together often, with Jones chasing the ball and Hubbard trying to block him.
The Steelers drafted Jones in the first round and signed Hubbard as an undrafted free agent. The rookies played together at Carver High School in Columbus, Ga.
"It's a blessing," Jones said. "We talk about it all the time."
Standing at 6 feet 4 and 297 pounds, Hubbard is undersized for an NFL offensive lineman. It's a challenge he will have to overcome if he wants to make the final roster. Joseph Kegler, his high school offensive line coach, said it's an obstacle Hubbard has overcome before.
"The only thing that ever hurt Chris was being small," Kegler said. "I knew if someone gave him a chance they would be pleasantly surprised."
Kegler saw the friendship between Hubbard and Jones long before they reached the NFL. Kegler described Jones as a guy who got along with everybody on the team. Hubbard described him as an animal.
"He always had your back, like a brother," Hubbard said.
They often spent time with each other in high school, working out, honing their skills and discussing their future. There was talk about going to college and talk about eventually playing in the NFL.
Mostly, the two just wanted to have fun, and they accomplished their goal of winning a Georgia state championship in 2007.
Jones said Hubbard was always a quiet guy, a hard worker who loves football and always wears a smile.
Eventually, the time came for the two to head their separate ways. Jones, a high school star, went to the University of Southern California to play for coach Pete Carroll. He was rated a four-star prospect by Rivals.com.
"It was quite fun seeing all the different colleges come in week in and week out," Hubbard said of Jones' recruitment. "I was always excited for him."
While Hubbard didn't receive as much attention, he had plenty of options. Rated a three-star prospect by Rivals.com, he committed to play for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Neither thought they would wear the same uniform again. Frequent phone calls and texts were the norm, however, as the two players looked out for one another despite living apart.
A neck injury and coaching change at USC led Jones back to Georgia, where he became an All-American linebacker.
Hubbard maintained a consistently productive career at UAB, earning All-Conference USA honors.
On draft day, Hubbard watched his friend's career veer to Pittsburgh. It wasn't long after that he would be headed here, too.
In training camp, the two have worked together, going over different techniques, showing each other what to work on. Still, there are noticeable differences between them. When Jones trots off the field, kids and adults hound him for autographs. When Hubbard walks off, he's holding the pads and helmets of his veteran offensive linemen teammates.
Even though they've taken different paths to Pittsburgh, the reunited teammates have the same goal: to have a long and fruitful NFL career.
"It's a wonderful feeling," Jones said. "We've got one mission. Come out here, work our tails off, and be everything we can be."Steelers - mobilehome
Mike Vernon: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @m_vernon. First Published August 2, 2013 4:00 AM