South Dakota School of Mines redshirt sophomore wide receiver Joe Luebbers broke through in 2018 with an outstanding rookie season with the Hardrockers.
His numbers — 53 receptions for 278 yards and six touchdowns — were impressive for a first-year starter. With that said, he has taken a ribbing by his coaches and teammates for getting caught from behind inside the 10-yard line on a good half-dozen catches.
That wasn't the case on a very early Wednesday morning when Luebbers caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Zur to highlight the Spring Showcase on Dunham Field at O'Harra Stadium.
"I've had that reputation of getting caught inside the 5-yard line and getting tackled before I score," he said with a laugh. "I caught it and was running away from them.
"We just drew it up in the last second. We knew we were going to need something special, and we got a big one."
It's been a good spring for Luebbers and the Hardrockers as they make the transition from graduating QB Jake Sullivan who set 17 school records in his time at Mines.
It's been an adjustment for the receivers and the offense, one that Luebbers said has progressively improved.
Being on the same page with any quarterback, let alone a first-year starter, is essential for the receivers, Luebbers added.
"Everybody has to be on the same page or else the offense won't work as well as it could run," he said.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Luebbers said he has improved as well this spring, working on his strength and his speed. A 75-yard TD reception might be proof of that.
"I'm out here making plays on a regular basis and doing everything I can to make those plays out on the field," he said.
Mines coach Zach Tinker said Luebbers is one of the favorite receivers of the quarterbacks because he has a huge catch radius, good flexibility and long arms and legs.
"It never looks like he is running fast, but he runs well," Tinker said. "He broke out last season. As a middle of the field field threat, he does a really good job. Going into the redshirt freshman season, we thought he was going to be Isaiah Manley's backup (X position) because last spring he caught balls every day. But we moved him inside (Y position) and he just blew up. He'll only get better."
Luebbers will have an internship like many of the Hardrockers do in the summer, but he said the off-season will be important for the team as they look to improve on last year's 5-6 overall mark.
"We just have to keep the peddle down and keep working and getting better and make sure we do all of the work, especially in the weight room in the summer, do everything we can to get ready for fall camp and our first game," he said.
The other two touchdowns of the morning came on a 4-yard TD run by junior Korder Kropsey and a 12-yard run by senior Jermaine Williams.
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Williams, who joined the Hardrockers as a junior transfer two years ago, played one season before redshirting last season.
He has been a jack-of-all-trade performer for the Hardrockers this spring — playing at wide receiver, running back and punt and kick returner.
"He's a talented player. You keep looking for other ways to impact the game because he is a good player," Tinker said. "I think he'll have an impact this season."
The hour-long Spring Showcase was postponed from Friday because of the weather. The teams consisted of the number one offense (coached by offensive coordinator Neil Linhart) and number two defense (defensive line coach Bo Montgomery) versus the number two offense (line coach Cody O'Neill) and number one defense (defensive coordinator Levi Suiaunoa).
"I like doing it that way," Tinker said. "I've been a part of doing it both ways where the starters are all on one team, but that is going to make one side of the ball look better. Here, you have the top tier guys going against the top tier guys and the developmental players against the developmental plays. That's how you want it to be."
Tinker said that all teams are trying to get the work in, trying to be competitive and hoping that no one gets hurt. He said they are not really trying to scheme plays against each other, per say, but they are trying to just go play.
"We hadn't tackled in a while because we hadn't had any scrimmages in a while," he said. "Our number one fundamental that was off today was our tackling, something we had really been improving on all spring."
Tinker, however, said the first offensive line played better after having a couple of "pretty average days" for them.
"Today the top offense moved the ball well and did some good things. I thought our defensive line and secondary played well," he said.
All five quarterbacks — Zur, sophomores Nick Zell, Toby Smith and McCoy Bila and junior Thomas Creese — all played Wednesday, something Tinker said can be a little disjointed in the spring.
He said it hard to tell exactly what it is going to look like because none of them have played in enough games to really know.
"That is probably the hardest part in trying to simulate stuff today," he said. "We were not really trying to hit them either. We did at the start this spring to see if they would wilt under that pressure. I thought we plateaued in the middle of spring, but I thought we finished strong."
The Hardrockers will close their spring today with their Colorado Mesa preview, and in three weeks begin their summer regime. Mines opens Sept. 7 at home against Mesa.
Tinker said the summer workouts determine the leadership and structure of the team. He said that after Thursday, it is a completely player-run leadership until fall camp.
"It's guys holding each other accountable, guys making sure other guys are getting their work in, guys setting up times to throw with other guys," he said. "That is really important part of the development of the team. It falls on the players. We have to put faith in our guys that they will do the work they need to do to get it done. Really good teams come in and everyone is ready to go."