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Gophers’ Nubin called his shot, and now he may be NFL draft’s top safety

Safety Tyler Nubin has often called his shot, before big high school games in St. Charles, Ill. as well as with the Gophers. In September, he told Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, "I'm going to go pick it off," before a late interception against Nebraska that set up a game-winning field goal.

There should probably be little surprise that Nubin saw this week coming, too.

After his sophomore season at St. Charles North High School, his first on varsity, a 15-year-old Nubin had a one-on-one meeting with head coach Robert Pomazak.

"He sits there and says, 'I want to go get a Division I scholarship and I want to play in the NFL,'" Pomazak said. "At that time, you wouldn't have thought that was the end game."

Seven years later, Nubin is positioned to turn a ball-hawking Gophers career, including a program-record 13 interceptions in 55 games, into being an NFL draft pick. Possibly as early as Thursday night's first round.

Nubin was invited by the NFL to opening night in Detroit, but he declined the invitation. He instead wants to share an emotional moment with his family and friends.

"A lot of anxiety," Nubin said, "just not knowing where you're going to go and where you're going to be, and your dream being so close to being here after all these years of working and all these years of dreaming."

Nubin will be in Miami, where relatives rented out a venue for a watch party. There he can host more supporters than he could've brought with him to the NFL draft.

"I feel like I got too many family members I want to invite," he said. "They would get mad at me if I had to pick and choose, I didn't want to have to go through that."

"There won't be one dry eye in the building," Nubin's father, Rodney, added.

'Not afraid to speak up'

Nubin has deflected the spotlight since grade school, Pomazak said, including when St. Charles North's do-it-all star had a "game for the ages" in a state semifinal playoff win.

Nubin was a four-star recruit as a defensive back, but he was also St. Charles North's best offensive player. He played receiver, running back and wildcat quarterback.

In a double overtime semifinal, Nubin had 184 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. The win sent St. Charles North to the state title game. The home crowd chanted: "Nubin! Nubin!"

"He turned them over and started chanting, 'SCN! SCN!'" Pomazak said. "Moments like that you realize it's a hallmark of who he is."

Nubin's trajectory has "always been up," Pomazak said, which is part of the reason he decided to stay for a fifth Gophers season last fall. Nubin's decision proved wise with a career-high five interceptions despite playing through a right knee injury that required surgery after the season. That kind of toughness resonates with NFL evaluators.

"Both arms and both legs would have to be broken for him to not play," Rodney Nubin said. "We have to press him sometimes to dial it back and take care of his body sometimes. He's always been that way. ... I have to credit his mom [Sherese] for that."

Nubin said he crafted his dogged approach after seeing the relentless pace at which teammates like former Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. practiced and played.

Former Gophers receiver Chris Autman-Bell played with Nubin for five seasons.

"Some of the most heated practices, heated conversations," Autman-Bell said. "Almost fighting after every rep, late hits. But that's my brother, though. That made us better each day."

Nubin said he prides himself on being vocal, to an extent.

"I'm a confrontational guy. I'm somebody that's not afraid to speak up," he said. "But I'm also a guy that knows when to step back and learn and to listen."

Which NFL team will come calling?

Nubin has been popular among NFL teams this spring. He estimated he spoke with about half the league in formal meetings at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, including the Bears, Packers, Eagles, Steelers, Jets, Raiders and Bills. He has also met with teams at the Senior Bowl and taken pre-draft visits.

NFL evaluators had to wait until Gophers pro day in March to see Nubin run through athletic testing. He didn't run timed drills at the combine due to complications from knee surgery. He attempted an "accelerated" recovery, Nubin said, following a meniscectomy to repair his right knee this offseason.

"Kind of bit me in the butt a little bit, kind of, dealing with some residual stuff from that, tendinitis in my knee," Nubin said. "I wasn't fully 100% ready to go at the combine."

While Nubin blossomed as a safety for the Gophers, evaluators lauded his instincts that led to right-place-right-time takeaways. Some analysts have doubted whether he's a top-tier athlete at the position. His 31.5-inch vertical and 10-foot broad jump would've ranked near the bottom of safeties at the combine. At his pro day, Nubin said he felt the 40-yard dash "went well," but didn't disclose a time.

"[Uses] instincts to think along with the quarterback and pounce on throws from an angle," NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein wrote. "He's average in man coverage and might lack ideal top-end speed, but his anticipation and discipline help make up for that."

Nubin terrorized Big Ten quarterbacks the past three seasons, and there's chatter about him staying in the region.

The Green Bay Packers have been pegged as a fit for Nubin by Zierlein and ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller.

"The Packers need an over-the-top safety with range and ball skills," Miller wrote. "Nubin has both."

Nubin said playing for a different NFC North team, his hometown Chicago Bears, "has always been a dream of mine."

"That would be crazy," Rodney Nubin said. "That would be really nice. It'd make it a lot easier to go to Minnesota [to see Gophers running back Jordan Nubin] and fly back to Chicago on Sundays, I can tell you that."