Ken Dunek has fully embraced life after football

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Updated: August 5, 2016
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There was a time for Ken Dunek when basketball was at the forefront of his life. After graduating from Marengo High School in Marengo, Illinois, he attended Paducah Community College in Kentucky, continuing to play the game he loved. He eventually transferred to Memphis State University — now the University of Memphis — where he received a full scholarship to play for their basketball team. But at that time, he had no idea another sport would be his true calling.

Once arriving at Memphis State, where he played the power forward position, the football team started taking notice of his size and speed. Dunek felt the possibility of him going to the NBA was slim, so he started thinking seriously about switching sports.

“I knew if I had a chance to go pro, it would have to be playing football,” he said.

After spending the 1977 season playing strictly basketball for Memphis State, Dunek was offered a scholarship to play for their football team — even though he didn’t have a ton of experience engaging in the sport.

“I didn’t play [football] in high school because I didn’t want to jeopardize my basketball career,” Dunek said. “But I did play pee wee football when I was younger.”

So in 1978, Dunek was a member of the Memphis State football team, lining up as a 6-foot-6 tight end. It’s something that happens quite often in today’s NFL, where former basketball players make the switch. But it wasn’t as common during the ’70s. Dunek, however, was one of the athletes who helped set the trend. Guys like Antonio Gates, Jordan Reed, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, Julius Peppers and Martellus Bennett are among a few who made the transition from the basketball court to the football field.

Dunek finished up his college tenure in 1979 playing both basketball and football. He wasn’t drafted, but a few NFL teams were showing interest in signing him as a rookie free agent — including the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles. Dunek chose the Eagles, and entered training camp as the third tight end on the roster. But the two players ahead of him on the depth chart, both suffered injuries early in camp. That gave him a chance to impress the coaches and earn a roster spot — which is just what he did. That Eagles team went to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Oakland Raiders in 1981. But Dunek was a part of that team, and will never forget what that magical ride was like.

“It was a dream come true to play in the NFL — a blessing. I’m proud of that time spent with the Eagles,” Dunek said.

He also said he built lifelong relationships with many of the players on that Eagles squad, including ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski, who he keeps in contact with today.

Dunek had his most productive years as a football player in the United States Football League (USFL). In 1983, he signed a contract to play with the Philadelphia Stars, coached by Jim Mora, who later became a head coach in the NFL. Dunek won two championships with the Stars, and was on the roster for their 48-13-1 record from 1983-1985 — which is still the best three-year stretch by any pro football team in history.

After retiring in 1987, Dunek went on to begin life after football. He was a journalism major while in school, so he started taking advantage of networking opportunities within the sports industry. He has since written a book entitled “An Improbable Journey,” which was published in 2010 and gives insight on his time spent in the NFL and playing for Dick Vermeil in Philadelphia.

Dunek also published the JerseyMan/PhillyMan magazine, where his family, daughters Ashley, Taylor and Jamie, and wife Terri, all play roles in helping the magazine succeed.

But Ken Dunek has been active in several ways. He spent time as a college football analyst for ESPN, and is now on American Sports Network serving the same role.

Once a competitor, always a competitor. A motto that many former and current athletes steadily live by. Ken still has that same competitive spirit that was with him during his playing days. And it shows in his work.

“I get the same feeling from signing someone up for an ad [for my magazine], as I did when scoring a touchdown in football or making a shot in basketball,” Ken said. “That drive is still there.”

Josiah Turner

Josiah Turner

Josiah is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sideline Sports Report. He is a writer for ESPN, and has written for Rant Sports and FanSided covering the Washington Redskins. He's also covered high school basketball for Virginia Preps (Rivals.com). Josiah is from Chesapeake, VA and a college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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