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Live Like Luke: How former UTEP player’s legacy has redefined the football program

EL PASO, Texas -- For Luke Laufenberg, one spring of practice was all he had to make an impression.

Though Luke never played a down for the UTEP Miners, that short impression has refined the program for all time. And now two years after Luke's death, the program has done the same for his family.

After practicing with the Miners in the Spring of 2019 Laufenberg died of Burkitt's Leukemia, a rare form of cancer that chews up the body's metabolism.

Laufenberg had already beat cancer once prior to signing with UTEP in January of 2019, and had worked his body back into football shape in order to play for the Miners.

"Every doctor that came in, it was 'When am I gonna be able to start working out?' And they were just trying to literally keep him alive, not when he could get in the weight room," says Luke's father Babe, a former NFL Quarterback and current Dallas Cowboys radio broadcaster. "But I think what helped keep him alive was the thought that 'I'm gonna get my body back and I am gonna play football again'."

In the spring of 2019, a body scan revealed that Luke was cancer free. And true to his word, he quickly trained his way back to football shape and accepted a scholarship from Head Coach Dana Dimel and the Miners.

Luke spent the spring of 2019 practicing with the Miners, and his strong-willed mentality impressed everyone associated with the program.

"I think they were so moved by this kid who did not want to talk about anything about his cancer," says Babe of why UTEP's players gravitated towards Luke. "They all said he was the hardest worker. His attitude was second to none, always upbeat, always trying to learn."

"So I think as a coaching staff and his teammates, you want to emulate that a little bit."

But prior to the fall of 2019, Luke's cancer reappeared. On July 12th 2019, his second diagnosis was pronounced terminal and he was given 2-8 weeks to live.

"You know he just dropped his head, but didn't really say much," says an emotional Babe of the terminal diagnosis. "And we got home and he just said to his mom and me, 'I just want everything to be normal.' He wanted to go about his life, which he did. He went skydiving. He went to Las Vegas with his brother. He worked out literally until his final week of life."

On August 22nd 2019, Luke passed away at the age of 21.

But even though Luke is no longer physically with the Miners program, his presence is felt throughout the halls and helmets of the program each day.

Luke's last name and number is on the field each Saturday, donned by Luke's former teammate and friend WR Justin Garrett. Babe has said that he and his family are touched by Garrett's gesture.

"I was here for a game, and after I talked to Justin a little bit and I said 'How did you and Luke become friends?'"

"And Justin said 'We were the last two guys in the locker room. So they were the last guys to leave and they ended up bonding."

Each week, UTEP awards a Luke Laufenberg Award to the player who best exemplifies strong work ethic on the practice field and in a game.

And this fall, the team is unveiling a nutrition station in Luke's name that will be located in the weight room. The nutrition station will give players the chance to fuel themselves with the strength Luke brought to practice each and every day.

Coach Dimel has said that Luke's role on the team would be a special one had be physically been with the team today.

"I think he'd be a captain. I think in no doubt in my mind he'd be a captain," says Dimel, who added that Luke would be a regular playing on gameday. "We would need him and use him and be a huge part of what we're doing. And he is, he's a huge part."

"He's with us right now."

The principle to "Live Like Luke" has become a pillar UTEP's program for all-time, and is one that is applicable on and off the field of play.

Watch the attached clip to see Nate Ryan's full-length special report, including interview with Babe Laufenberg, on Luke's Legacy.

Nate Ryan

Nate Ryan is an ABC-7 sports anchor/reporter.

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