- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2006

None of the 89 players invited to the Washington Redskins’ rookie minicamp had a more unlikely path to a uniform than David Lonie.

The Palm Beach, Australia, native starred in the pole vault and water polo, worked as a plumber and in construction and ran a surf shop before he came to the United States as a water ski instructor at a Wisconsin summer camp in 1999. Lonie had never played football, but one of his fellow instructors was a punter at Drake University and Lonie’s kicking talent showed as he outpunted his buddy.

“I could boom the ball, but I didn’t think much of it,” said Lonie, who played semipro soccer in England the next two years before returning to the States in 2001 to give football a shot.

Lonie hooked up with former Cincinnati kicker Doug Pelfrey that summer. The video of Lonie that Pelfrey sent out garnered plenty of interest from colleges. He committed to Ohio State but complications with his transcript forced him to Ellsworth (Iowa) Junior College. From there, Lonie was recruited by many Division I schools and wound up at California where he punted and kicked off the past two seasons.

Lonie, who averaged more than 41 yards a punt at Cal, is a serious threat to incumbent Derrick Frost, who averaged 40.4 yards, thanks to plenty of roll after joining the Redskins in Week 3 last year.

“Derrick has to be more consistent and show more power,” Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith said of the two-year NFL veteran. “We haven’t had him for a whole year so he has some upside.”

However, Smith was more upbeat about his newest project, whom the Redskins signed as a rookie free agent Monday.

“David has some technique issues like any punter coming into the league, but he’s got good power,” Smith said. “A lot of guys have powerful legs, but they don’t have the full game. That’s why the Tom Tupas, Bryan Barkers and Sean Landetas punt for so long. They’ve got the total game. Most punters and kickers in this league get recycled so with David’s maturity level, we may be able to bypass a step. At the same time, he has only been punting for four years so you can still mold him. And he’s played pro soccer, so he’s been in the heat of a battle. He’s got some intangibles that you can’t coach.”

Australian Darren Bennett was a novelty when he won San Diego’s punting job in 1995, but Bennett (since cut by Minnesota) and fellow Aussies Matt McBriar of the Cowboys and Ben Graham off the Jets all punted last year so it’s not unrealistic that Lonie could take Frost’s job.

“I had quite a few offers from teams after the draft, but I was hoping that something would work out in Washington because I felt this was the best opportunity,” said Lonie, who turns 27 today and runs a motocross apparel and equipment export/import firm. “One of my strong points is that I can punt and kick off. Danny has already started working on a few little things with me like when you drop the ball, you need to keep your head over the ball and not lift your head and watch where the ball is going. That really helps with hang time. If I can show Danny that I can consistently hit the kind of ball that he wants, I think I can win the job.”

Notes — It’s good that Justin Stull is about to receive a degree in history from Princeton because the rookie free agent is trying to make history repeat.

Last year, Princeton linebacker Zak Keasey came to rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and made the opening day roster. Keasey is now with the 49ers.

“It’s definitely encouraging to know someone who made it this way,” said Stull, an All-Ivy League pick who started next to Keasey for two seasons.

It wasn’t a good day for area players. Maryland receiver Derrick Fenner didn’t work out because of a sprained ankle, although he is expected to return today. Georgetown defensive end Mike Ononibaku’s dream of making it as an NFL linebacker died when he was not asked to return. Ononibaku will put his finance degree to use as a financial analyst for Citigroup.

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