The stories people tell about Joe Hubener as a high school football player are exactly what you would expect given that he is now the starting quarterback at Kansas State.
There was the time he threw a pass 80 yards on the run. There was the time he steamrolled three defenders for a rushing touchdown. There was the time he launched a ball with such force that a teammate who caught the pass worried it cracked his shoulder pads. And who could forget the entertaining highlight video he produced and posted online? The one that drew K-State coaches to tiny Cheney.
“He had a real knack for throwing the ball a mile,” said Dustin McEwen, the man who coached Hubener at Cheney High. “He unleashed bombs. I played college quarterback at Fort Hays State, and I could never throw the ball as far as he could. He was a great high school football player.”
Yet, he was not a good enough high school quarterback to start for Cheney, then a Class 4A school located in a town of roughly 2,000. The 6-foot-5, 211-pounder was considered a better athlete than passer, so he started at receiver, tight end and defensive back. He also played special teams. But he was always the change-of-pace quarterback.
Four years later, Hubener is the man. He will improbably make his first start as a quarterback at any level Saturday when K-State takes on Texas-San Antonio at 11 a.m. inside the Alamodome. The assignment comes a week after projected starter Jesse Ertz suffered a season-ending knee injury, and Hubener took over during a 34-0 victory against South Dakota.
The lifelong backup is finally getting his moment in the spotlight.
“It’s just another opportunity to prove people wrong,” Hubener said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I have been told I couldn’t play quarterback. This is my opportunity to show them they are wrong about me and that I can come out and play quarterback and be successful at this level.”
It’s a rare story; one that Hubener, a junior, suggests could be one of a kind.
Question is: If he’s this good now, why didn’t he start in high school?
Hubener says Cheney simply needed him to play elsewhere. As one of the tallest and fastest players on a team that used a run-heavy flexbone offense, his athleticism was more valuable than his gargantuan passes.
McEwen, now the principal at Norton Junior High and the athletic director at Norton High, says Hubener spent more time at quarterback than many people think. He played there nearly every game. But McEwen went with a more experienced passer that had served as the group’s quarterback since middle school as the starter. He simply knew the offense better than Hubener. Besides, Hubener was the most versatile player on the team.
There were other factors, too. Hubener favored basketball early in his high school career, and it wasn’t until his junior year that he switched that focus to football. That’s when coaches could no longer ignore his arm. He split time with the starting quarterback as a senior. He flashed the skills necessary to win the job all to himself, McEwen said, but in some ways he was almost too good.
“I hate to say this, because I don’t want to say anything negative about our receivers, but Joe threw the ball so hard that it was sometimes tough for them to catch it,” McEwen said. “If he was on, he would put a hole through your chest. If he was off, that same pass ends up on the chain-length fence behind the field.
“He had all the tools with his height and arm strength. K-State clearly taught him how to use them. I admire that, because they could have found a more polished quarterback coming out of high school. But they gave Joe a chance.”
K-State never wavered on where to play Hubener.
When coach Bill Snyder asked Hubener to join the Wildcats as a walk-on, he did so expecting Hubener, now on scholarship, to play quarterback.
“He was athletic and he had good size to go along with it,” Snyder said. “When we realized that he could throw the ball well, it was just all kind of a fit. We have always liked to have athletic quarterbacks, and his experience at other positions demonstrated that.”
UTSA coach Larry Coker is also impressed by Hubener after watching him throw for 147 yards and a touchdown and run for 38 yards last week.
“He looks like a starter to me,” Coker said in a phone interview.
Hubener spent last season as K-State’s backup quarterback behind Jake Waters, and he hoped to win the starting job this season, calling it his job to lose in the spring. Things didn’t work out that way, but he stayed ready just in case.
When coaches told him to replace Ertz last week, he sprinted to the huddle, made eye contact with his teammates and barked out the play. He was ready to get going.
Now, finally, he’s ready to start.
“It means a ton to me,” Hubener said. “It’s been a dream for me growing up as a little kid. To get this opportunity, that’s a dream come true, but that’s not the end of the road. There’s a lot of football to be played. I can’t see that as the end outcome. There are bigger goals to achieve.”
Kansas State at UTSA
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
TV: Fox Sports 1
Three things about UTSA
1. The Roadrunners played No. 22 Arizona tough in their opening game, falling 42-32. But they put up big offensive numbers along the way, including 525 total yards.
2. UTSA is not your average Conference USA opponent. San Antonio supports the team well, and a crowd of more than 40,000 is expected at Saturday’s game.
3. Larry Coker is one of the nation’s most accomplished football coaches. He has a career record of 83-39 and won a national championship at Miami. He has coached at UTSA since it began playing football in 2009.
K-State’s linebackers vs. David Morgan. Defending a versatile tight end is never easy, but it may be even more difficult than usual against Morgan. A former receiver, Morgan lines up all across the field and creates mismatches. He caught nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown against Arizona. Elijah Lee, Will Davis and Donnie Starks will need to be ready to cover him.
Kellis Robinett’s pick: K-State, 40-28
This game could end up closer than some expect. K-State is a big favorite, but UTSA has an explosive offense and early road games are always tricky. Hubener may be the key. He needs to play smart and avoid turnovers.