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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 18, LB Keith Loneker Jr.

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Kansas special teams player Keith Loneker (33) pulls down Texas Tech place kicker Erik Baughman (36) for a safety during the second quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas special teams player Keith Loneker (33) pulls down Texas Tech place kicker Erik Baughman (36) for a safety during the second quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

Primarily a special teams contributor at the time, when Keith Loneker Jr. produced the Kansas football program’s first safety since 2012 in his Big 12 debut at Texas Tech in 2016, it was just a sign of bigger things to come.

By the end of his sophomore season, the hometown product from Free State High was starting at linebacker for the Jayhawks. In the final three weeks he totaled 30 tackles, boosted by a 16-stop performance in the Jayhawks’ meme-inspiring overtime victory against Texas. On that night Loneker also stymied running back D’Onta Foreman, who rushed for 2,028 yards on the season, on a critical fourth-quarter fourth down.

Loneker is glad to be following in his late father’s footsteps at KU, and optimistic about the Jayhawks’ chances this season, his third in the program (Loneker sat out 2015 as a transfer from Baker). He saw the work being put in during offseason months and took it as a sign of the program’s overall vibe shifting.

“It’s night and day, not just with our defense, but our team,” Loneker said earlier this summer during an interview with KLWN. “You come in here and one of the biggest things I’ve seen this summer and this past spring is how many people are doing extra work. The first two years I came here there were people doing extra work, but it was just the same people. Now when I come through here you’ll see the D-line — not just Dorance and Daniel and those people who usually do it. But it’s everybody on the D-line.”

Three years removed from beginning his college football career as a freshman All-American at Baker, Loneker is battling Osaze Ogbebor for the starting middle linebacker position. A longtime buddy and former high school teammate, fellow linebacker Joe Dineen expects Loneker, who played in all 12 games last year and started four, will take on a key role in the defense’s success.

“No one knew who he was, and he really made a name for himself,” Dineen said of Loneker’s first season at KU, “and he’s going to come back with a bunch of experience, which is going to help a ton, because that’s huge in the Big 12, the experience.”

Fueled by personal tragedy, just months after his father, former KU offensive lineman Keith Loneker Sr., died, “little Keith” already has shown he can deliver big plays. Now he wants to stand out on a weekly basis for an entire season.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

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