Joe Hubener wants to talk about his favorite moment in a Kansas State football uniform.
It occurred last season in the form of a 31-yard touchdown pass to Kody Cook, a highlight play that gave the Wildcats a 39-33 victory over Louisiana Tech in triple overtime.
“That was just a really cool feeling,” Hubener says now. “I have never experienced a triple-overtime game. To pull that off was something special.”
Hubener’s ability to share a positive memory from last season illustrates how much the senior quarterback has matured these past few months. His answer would have been very different immediately following the conclusion of last year’s tumultuous 6-7 campaign.
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At that time, he might not have identified a single highlight. He wasn’t the quarterback he wanted to be, and his team suffered its first losing season under Bill Snyder since 2005. He blamed himself.
“I had to learn how to be thick-skinned, to not let stuff get to me,” Hubener says now. “I was always somebody who took stuff pretty hard. Obviously, last season being pretty rough, it was hard to keep that stuff out of my head. That is something I have tried to work on since, staying level-headed.”
Thrust into the starting role following a season-ending knee injury to Jesse Ertz on the opening series of the first game, Hubener led the Wildcats onto the field 11 times. A wild array of results and emotions followed.
On the positive side, Hubener fulfilled his dream of becoming a starter, something he never experienced as a backup quarterback in high school. He had big games and bright moments, but there was plenty of heartbreak, too.
His completion percentage of 47.6 ranked 119th nationally, negating much of his production. Hubener threw for 1,837 yards and nine touchdowns on top of 613 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing, but 10 interceptions and erratic throws, particularly on short routes, were costly.
At one point, K-State lost six straight and needed a late rally to qualify for the postseason. Hubener’s play was so unpredictable that he barely played in the Liberty Bowl. Instead, Snyder went with Cook, a converted receiver.
Hubener knows he has to be better this season to regain the starting job over a healthy Ertz and Alex Delton.
“My accuracy and completion percentage last season wasn’t something to be happy about,” Hubener said. “That is something I have put a lot of focus into. I need to continue to improve my mechanics and hit a lot of the short stuff I was missing last season.
“It’s really just a focus thing. You have to hold yourself to it to make sure you are hitting receivers you need to be hitting. You need to break that habit and do pushups if you make a bad throw. That is something I try to invest in. If the throw is not where I want it, do a quick push-up. If it’s way off, do two push-ups.”
That dedication helped Hubener put on a show at K-State’s spring game, completing 21 of 25 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns.
Ertz, a junior captain who has outperformed Hubener in practice for more than a year, is viewed by many as the presumptive starter, but coaches are giving Hubener every opportunity to win the job.
He was the leading passer on last year’s team, and K-State quarterbacks tend to improve drastically in their second seasons.
Snyder has gone out of his way to praise Hubener since the season ended, saying his completion percentage would have been at about 60 percent if not for drops.
Offensive coordinator Dana Dimel is also trying to boost Hubener’s confidence, saying he should benefit from an upgraded receiving corps, led by junior-college transfer Byron Pringle.
“What hurt Joe last year was he didn’t have the best supporting cast with the health of our receivers,” Dimel said. “I mean, our receivers were so beat up that it affected him. It started to get to his confidence a little bit.
“If you put Joe in with our line that we had last year and the receivers that we have this year he would have done a (heck) of a job.”
A big step forward certainly is possible. Hubener has gained confidence. For now, though, he is focused on the little things, like blocking out criticism.
The more he looked at Twitter last year, the worse he felt. He lost confidence with every mistake.
That was most evident following a late interception against TCU, a defeat-clinching error in a back-and-forth game. Hubener was inconsolable with tears streaming down his face. He gained 268 yards of total offense and scored four touchdowns that night, but he focused on the negatives.
The following week, K-State lost to Oklahoma 55-0 and Hubener gained 55 total yards.
Hubener learned many valuable lessons last season.
Staying upbeat was the most valuable of all.
“I don’t think I really noticed that it got to me until the end of the season, but it definitely did,” Hubener said. “It is hard to stay positive though a stretch like that. Now I am trying to stay a lot more positive. If I make mistake it’s whatever, it happened. You have to bounce back.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett