Photo: Joe Cardona was a four-year starter.
Navy long-snapper Joe Cardona now shares a distinction with two Naval Academy Heisman Trophy winners and another prominent Heisman candidate.
The Midshipman is an NFL draft pick.
The New England Patriots selected Cardona in the fifth round on the third and final day of the seven-round NFL Draft Saturday in Chicago. He didn't have a bad snap in his four years as Navy's starting long-snapper, a feat that earned an invitation as the only long-snapper invited to the NFL Combine in February.
Cardona, a 6-foot-3, 236-pounder from El Cajon (Calif.) Granite Hills near the Navy town of San Diego, graduates May 22 with a five-year commitment to the U.S. Navy in return for his free education. But the Department of Defense does allow for players to apply for an early release after two years.
He is Navy’s sixth all-time NFL draft pick, joining a list that includes 1960 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Belino, 17th round, Washington Redskins, 1961; 1963 Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, 10th, Dallas Cowboys, 1964; and two-time Heisman candidate Napolean McCallum, fourth round, Los Angeles Raiders, 1986. McCallum was seventh in the Heisman voting to Bo Jackson in 1985 and sixth to Mike Rozier in 1983..
“Right now I’m prepared to be the best football player I can be for the New England Patriots, and the best Naval officer I can be,” Cardona said in a conference call interview with writers. “For the majority of the class, we’re just getting our orders. People have had an idea of where they’re going to be sent, but some people are just getting their orders now, and I’m among that group. Whatever duty I’m doing at the time I’m doing it, I’m just prepared to do my best.”
A result of the DOD ruling to allow releases after two years for graduates pursuing an NFL career is evident by comparing Cardona as a fifth-round long-snapper and Staubach as a quarterback taken in the 10th round. Staubach graduated at a time when the military commitment was four years with no exceptions -- even for a Heisman winner.
Cardona is Navy’s first draft pick since Bob Kuberski was a seventh-rounder with the Green Bay Packers in 1993. After Kuberski served two years of his Navy commitment upon graduation, the defensive lineman played in the NFL from 1995 to 1998 with the Packers and 1999 with the Patriots.
Cardona’s snapping speed of 41 mph is considered outstanding. It simpler terms, that means he gets the ball back to the punter or holder in less than a second. Reliable long-snappers have long careers, so Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is apparently ready to wait until Cardona’s future comes into focus.
Hearing his name in the draft didn't come as a surprise. Cardona said he had heard from Patriots’ new special teams coach, Joe Judge, and his agent, Don Henderson, said the Patriots told him they planned to draft his client.
“There are only a few teams that have needs for snappers, so there were only a few teams that could have potentially signed me,” Cardona said. “I had some contact with some other teams, but ultimately I think based off my contact with Judge, I knew that the Patriots were hopefully going to be my home come this fall.”
No NFL head coach understands a Navy player’s commitments better than the Belichick. He grew up near the Naval Academy in Annapolis while his father, Steve, was a Navy assistant coach from 1956 to 1989.
“This is a great honor for Joe, for our football program and for our school," Ken Niumatalolo, Navy’s ninth-year head coach, told Navysports.com. “This is another milestone for our program. Joe has done things the right way since the day he got here and has been a model citizen in the classroom, in Bancroft Hall and on the field. I couldn't be more thrilled for him.”
-30-Tom Shanahan has featured Army, Navy and Air Force athletes for nearly 30 years in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Rivals.com and the Raleigh News and Observer. He attended his first Army-Navy Game after John Feinstein wrote in his book on the rivalry, “A Civil War,” everyone should attend the Army-Navy Game at least once.