There’s no documented proof that this is how it went down, but it’s possible that former Kansas University lineman Keith Loneker owes his five-year NFL career to a cartwheel.
The year was 1993 and Loneker had just finished a pass-blocking shuffle drill at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Loneker, who enjoyed a productive career at KU but also was labeled an injury risk because of a hip problem dating back to eighth grade, had not garnered much attention at the combine. At the end of the shuffle, Loneker, who measured 6-foot-3, 305 pounds at the time, was so relieved that he unleashed a giant cartwheel near the middle of the field.
At the time, he and the other linemen just laughed. “Look at the fat guy doing cartwheels,” said Loneker, recalling what had to be going through the minds of the scouts. But from that point on, the scouts sent more attention Loneker’s way.
“I’m there for two days and nobody was really talking to me much, and then I do a cartwheel and everybody starts coming up to me saying, ‘Hey, hey, what’s your name, what school do you play for.’ It’s crazy,” Loneker said. “Some of it’s luck, and it’s the things that you never expect.”
Although the cartwheel memory is one that stuck, Loneker said he’d just as soon forget the rest of the experience. Despite being an all-Big 8 offensive tackle as a senior and being mentioned in draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.’s Top 100, Loneker saw his stock plummet because of the hip injury. The drills he loved, the football aspects he savored. But when it came time to be checked out, Loneker was miserable.
“They had six tables, with four team representatives at each table,” Loneker said. “And you laid down on this table and you had the Jets grabbing your right arm, the Colts on your left arm, the Steelers on your right leg and the Broncos on your left leg. And they’re twisting and checking the joints and then a horn goes off and they yell, ‘Switch,’ and you’d go to the next table. I hated it.”
After the exams, the doctors rated each player’s health risk from zero to five. Loneker was given a five — the worst — and because of it went undrafted. Despite the snub, he caught on with the Los Angeles Rams and became a starter by the end of his first season.
Former Jayhawks Darrell Stuckey, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier are in Indianapolis today, going through the same grind that Loneker and other Jayhawks endured before them.