KU linebackers prepare for final season together
photo by: Nick Krug
For as long as they can remember, University of Kansas senior linebackers Joe Dineen and Keith Loneker Jr. have been inseparable.
Loneker, who is 20 days older, and Dineen have been lifelong friends due to their parents’ connection. Dineen was the only pint-sized peer at Loneker’s first birthday, and there is a photo of them in diapers together. They both played for the same Pop Warner team when they first started playing football in the second grade.
“I played my first snap of football with Keith,” Dineen said. “It’s cool to take that ride and get to this level and play with him.”
But the 2018 campaign, which begins Saturday against Nicholls State, will be the last year the two players have the opportunity to share the same uniform. Dineen and Loneker, who have been roommates at Kansas, understand how special their friendship is.
“It’s great to be on a field with him,” Loneker said. “You know you can get on each other, and when you get off the field, you still love each other. You guys are still boys. It is pretty sweet.”
After Pop Warner, Loneker actually played at a different middle school. Dineen was quick to point out that, during their time as rivals, it was Dineen’s team that won every year.
The two joined back up at Free State High, where they left a lasting legacy. Dineen was named the 2013 Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year, while Loneker finished as the team’s all-time leader for defensive points in a season, assisted tackles and single-game receiving yardage.
Loneker elected to go to Baker University out of high school, while Dineen went straight to Kansas. After earning freshman All-American honors at Baker, Loneker transferred to KU and eventually earned a scholarship.
“It’s night and day,” Loneker said of his growth. “Coming from a guy at 195 playing linebacker in the NAIA, to now I’m 225. That physical change has been so much different and I have just been a student of the game.”
Last season, Loneker started all 12 games at linebacker and finished seventh on the team with 46 total stops, including 33 solo hits. Dineen led the nation in solo tackles with an average of 7.6 tackles per game. He also set a single-season school record with 25 tackles for loss.
Dineen ultimately made the decision to return to Kansas for his final season after entertaining the idea of entering the 2018 NFL Draft. And it allowed for a fitting end for two lifelong friends.
“I never put into perspective how rare that really is,” Dineen said. “It’s honestly kind of sad that it is almost over. We only have a couple months left of this. Obviously, we can cherish all the times we had together and it has been pretty cool.”