8 Days to Kickoff — Why It’s a Bittersweet Moment in UTEP Football


Babe Laufenberg and his late son, Luke, who died earlier this week in Dallas, after a two-year battle with cancer. Luke, a tight end on the UTEP roster, was 21.

By Mark S. McDonald, UTEP Miners railbird

Yes-s-s-s, at long last, only eight more days until UTEP opens the 2019 football season. It’s the Miners’ second under Dana Dimel and his staff, and fans are more than eager to move beyond the 1-21 record the past two years. Enough with the fingernails scratching on the blackboard, thank you very much.

Indeed, there is cause for optimism. But more on that in the next post to follow early next week. Deep and profound grief clouds this opener, perhaps like no other in the long history of UTEP football.

There is the bitter reality of 22 murders recently in an El Paso shopping mall, then earlier this week, UTEP tight end Luke Laufenberg died of cancer. 

In the former, some mindless nutjob announcing he wanted to “kill some Mexicans” opened fire and broke our collective hearts. Nationwide, media-types piled on, depicting El Paso as a war zone of Klansmen taking marching orders from Trump vs. Mexican nationals coming across the ditch to shop. Sickening portrayal of a town I have always found to be warm, engaging, cheerful and welcoming. No town is perfect, but I love me some El Paso. Always have, always will.  

The second is no less gut-wrenching, as we learn that Laufenberg attended Jesuit College Prep in Dallas before walking on at Texas A&M and playing at Mesa Community College in Arizona. There he was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma in 2017, but was declared cancer-free in May 2018 before signing with UTEP. This past spring Laufenberg experienced complications and, when he did not report to Camp Ruidoso, I heard grim whispers.

“It does not look good,” a UTEP staffer told me. Confession: I withheld that story from you. Given the gravity of the situation, it was not my story to tell. Luke Laufenberg was 21.

If the Laufenberg name rings familiar, it should. Father Babe Laufenberg was the Dallas Cowboys’ backup to Troy Aikman in 1990 and has since become an immensely popular, though candid, TV pundit.

University administrators say both the shopping mall shootings and the Laufenberg news will be noted at the Sun Bowl Aug. 31 when the Miners host Houston Baptist. Those will be solemn moments, on the brink of what should be a more upbeat football campaign.

Eight days to kickoff. If ever a college football team needed a reason to leave the past behind, it is this edition of the UTEP Miners. Fans in Orange United need it, too. See you in Aug. 31 in the Sun Bowl.

Next week: Camp Petticoat, and the Miners rally to redemption

{In late 1971 and all spring of ’72, McDonald worked the night shift at the El Paso Times. He did not own a car, so when the presses rolled about midnight, McDonald would walk up Mesa Street, solo, from downtown to campus, arriving about 1 o’clock in the morning. He never felt unsafe or threatened. To this day, McDonald believes most streets of El Paso are safer than driving Central Expressway in Dallas.}

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