EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – It isn’t how anyone pictured it would happen, but Luke Laufenberg made it on to the Sun Bowl Stadium turf last Saturday.
Following the death of UTEP tight end Luke Laufenberg last year after a lengthy battle with cancer, UTEP decided to award the right to wear his no. 2 jersey rather than retire it. Running back Quardraiz Wadley started the year wearing no. 2, but after he opted out of the 2020 campaign, the honor went to wide receiver Justin Garrett.
But Garrett took it a step further, putting the name “Laufenberg” on his back in addition to the no. 2 for the Miners’ 17-13 win over Abilene Christian on Sept. 19.
“When I see the name Laufenberg and the number 2 on the back of Justin Garrett’s jersey, I think that Luke is still alive and he’s now playing through Justin Garrett,” said Babe Laufenberg, Luke’s father and a former NFL quarterback.
The no. 2 is the mark of a Miners’ leader, and that’s exactly what Garrett has become as a senior.
“It’s just me being a leader and seeing there was an opportunity to do the right thing,” he said. “Luke was someone who always kept a smile on his face and that motivates me to do the right thing and go hard.”
Seeing their son’s name and number on TV during the ACU game was a surprise for the Laufenberg family.
“To see that name and number, I was choked up. To find out it was Justin Garrett was amazing,” said Laufenberg.
The number 2 doesn’t tell Garrett’s whole story. He was homeless at times as a kid growing up in California, but has persevered to become one of the best receivers in Conference USA, using the strength of the number 17, which he wears for his sister, Jessica, who passed away in 1997.
“My sister was very fearless as well and nothing overwhelmed or surprised her,” said Garrett. “She was always ready and alert and very smart. That’s just something I take pride in.”
Garrett will wear the number 17 one more time this year: On October 17 against Southern Miss. He draws strength each game from Jessica and Luke.
“The game is much bigger than myself. When I play, it’s for my family, it’s for my sister, it’s for Luke,” Garrett said.
For Babe Laufenberg, he sees a lot of Luke’s spirit in Garrett.
“Both these young men faced adversity and came out the other end and became better men for it,” said Laufenberg.
Garrett will rep Luke again this Saturday on the road against UL-Monroe. The game kicks off at 1:30 p.m. MT on ESPN2.