Coming out of his tiny high school, Joe Hubener got just enough snaps at quarterback to cobble together a highlight tape.
Hubener was actually the situational backup, instead starring for Cheney (a Southern rural Kansas town of 2,000 people, one Subway sandwich shop and no stoplights) as a receiver and defensive back.
But Hubener could fling the javelin a country mile. And when he got the football, he would smash through defenders like a bowling ball (Cheney’s favorite hangout, coincidentally, is the local bowling alley).
“Quarterback, though,” Hubener said, “is what I is always wanted to play.”
This spring at Kansas State, Hubener will finally get his chance.
With two-year starter and all-conference performer Jake Waters gone, Hubener finds himself the heir-apparent in Manhattan after grinding away the past four years learning the finer points of the position while earning a scholarship from Bill Snyder along the way.
“It’s really pretty incredible,” Hubener said, “for me to be at K-State and to have this opportunity now.”
Not bad for a former walk-on who has never started a game at quarterback once in his life.
Originally out of high school, Hubener’s plan was to take his highlight film and find an NAIA college that would take him. But through a friend of his father, Hubener had been invited to work out for Brian Butler, a Wichita man who had represented area football recruits like Arthur and Bryce Brown. Butler thought Hubener had what it took to play in the Big 12 and spread the word to college coaches. When then-K-State defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements invited Hubener to walk on for the Wildcats, he jumped at the chance.
“I had a strong arm,” said Hubener, who had finished fifth at the state track meet in javelin. “But my mechanics were pretty shaky.”
Fortunately for Hubener, he had the chance to study under two of the best quarterbacks in K-State history.
First, Collin Klein, who finished third in the Heisman voting while leading the Wildcats to a Big 12 title. Then Waters, who broke school records for passing yards and completion percentage.
“The biggest thing [I learned] from Jake was his leadership and passion, always trying to motivate guys to get the best effort out of them and playing with such passion,” Hubener said. “Collin just was in command in every aspect of the game.
“Obviously there’s a ton of pressure there, because those are huge shoes to fill.”
So far, though, the Wildcats have been pleased with Hubener’s physical and mental development as a quarterback.
“Joe really has a good understanding of what we do,” Snyder said. “He’s a pretty good decision-maker before the snap of the ball, which is significant. He has a good understanding of schemes we run, who goes where and how to define defensive coverages in the passing game. He throws the ball well. He has good velocity on the ball.”
Cut from the mold of prototypical Snyder quarterbacks of the past, Hubener also has the potential to be an effective runner with his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame.
“He’s a Coach Snyder quarterback; he’s got the ability to run,” said offensive tackle Cody Whitehair. “He’s a Collin Klein-type of guy, in that he’s not afraid to lower his shoulder and get yards.”
Hubener isn’t afraid of hard work, either. Like so many K-State standouts, he arrived as a walk-on with no promises. Gradually, he earned the respect of his teammates; then last September, a scholarship.
“Guys like that have a lot or respect from the rest of us,” Whitehair said. “They also have a chip on their shoulder, knowing they haven’t had anything handed to them. Joe is like that. … hungry.”
“It will be competitive, we’ll allow it to be competitive,” Snyder said. “Joe, having more experience, has the upper hand, but he’s going to have to continue to move forward. The other two are deserving of making it competitive. The other two have some talent, have some capabilities. So we’ll see.”
But from Cheney to Manhattan, Hubener is accustomed to proving himself. And he’s excited about the chance this spring to do just that.
"Proving to people I can be a quarterback at this level has been the driving factor for me," he said. "This is something I've been waiting for, something I've wanted for a long time."