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Archive for Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lassiter undrafted standout

April 21, 2009

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With the NFL Draft — and all of its overhyped whoop-de-do coming this weekend — I found myself wondering again what it all means.

For instance, we all know that John Hadl, Gale Sayers, John Riggins, Dana Stubblefield, et al., parlayed first-round selections into Pro Bowl careers.

But what about former Kansas University football players who were ignored in the annual spring meat market? Have any former undrafted Jayhawks ever made the Pro Bowl?

Not surprisingly, the answer is no. But Kwamie Lassiter came close. Lassiter was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2001, the season he tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with nine while playing safety for the Arizona Cardinals.

Lassiter was probably the best of the handful of former Jayhawks who enjoyed lengthy NFL careers despite being shunned in the NFL Draft. A 10-year pro who finished with 25 career pass thefts, Lassiter was considered undraftable because of his age.

A native of Newport News, Va., Lassiter played two seasons at Butler County CC, then sat out a year before enrolling at KU, where he was a starter in 1992. Three games into the ’93 season, however, Lassiter suffered a broken collarbone, and his college career appeared to be over because he was a fifth-year senior.

But KU petitioned, and the NCAA granted Lassiter a rare sixth year in 1994, so when the NFL Draft rolled around the next spring, he was 25 years old — ancient in draftability terms — but, in retrospect, not in ability. In 2002, Lassiter was the highest-paid safety in the NFL at $3.3 million a year.

Today, Lassiter has a morning sports show on VoiceAmerica, an Internet talk network.

Lassiter lasted a decade in the NFL (1995-2004), but that isn’t a record for a KU non-draftee. Three others — Don Davis, Broderick Thompson and Elvis Patterson — logged 11 years apiece in the NFL.

Davis (1996-2006) was primarily a special-teams player, notably on a couple of New England Patriots Super Bowl teams. Thompson was an offensive tackle for four NFL teams. And Patterson, a cornerback, played on two Super Bowl championship teams — Giants (XXI) and Cowboys (XXVIII).

Patterson’s nickname, you may recall, was Toast, a sobriquet attached after he was burned a couple of times during the fish bowl of his first Super Bowl.

Then there was Frank Wattelet, a KU defensive back in the late ’70s who played safety for eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints, and Harry Sydney, a running back and special-teams player for the 49ers’ 1988 and 1989 Super Bowl champs.

Where are they now? Davis is a pastor in suburban Boston, Patterson lives in Lenexa and does some officiating, Sydney is head football coach at Green Bay West High, and Wattelet is a financial advisor in Joplin, Mo.

Thompson was killed in a motorcycle accident seven years ago near Las Vegas. He was only 41.

Currently, the most successful former Jayhawk who was a free agent is Minnesota defensive back and punt returner Charles Gordon. But after three years with the Vikings, Gordon’s NFL career is in jeopardy after he suffered severe leg and ankle damage while returning a kick last November.

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