Two military men — one a senior at the Naval Academy, one an Army combat vet — hope to land a spot on a professional football roster this season. Then, if all goes well, you might never hear their names again.
Joe Cardona of Navy and Nate Boyer of Texas both seek to join the fraternity of NFL long snappers — men who fire a football between their legs at north of 40 miles per hour and rarely receive any notoriety unless something has gone very, very wrong.
Cardona is ranked atop the NFL.com special-teams prospect list. Boyer’s play at Texas and his inspirational story (Green Beret-turned-Longhorn who never played football before college; get the full details from a January interview here) have earned him top-tier sports publicity in the run-up to the NFL draft, which begins April 30.
“It falls in the middle of our finals week,” Cardona said of the draft’s opening night. “For the first couple of days, I’ll actually be taking finals. Luckily, I have Saturday off, and I’ll be at my girlfriend’s apartment, barbecuing and watching with friends from the team here, just to see if my name gets called.”
According to this NFL.com piece featuring Boyer, only three pure long snappers have been drafted in NFL history. Cardona and Boyer both could receive post-draft invitations from NFL teams seeking to fill out their rosters with free agents, but hurdles remain for each.
Cardona would need permission from the Navy Department to alter his five-year post-academy service commitment in a way that would allow him to play professional football. A roster spot wouldn’t guarantee a release from that obligation.
“The decision itself is not in my hands,” he said. “I’m ready and willing to serve out my commitment, as I signed up for. I’m a member of the Class of 2015, and along with my classmates, we’re ready to go out into the fleet. I have a little something special on the side, but ultimately … my priority is with serving my country.”
For now, he’s headed to Norfolk, Virginia, after commissioning to serve as a surface warfare officer, though orders haven’t been finalized, he said; it was a late switch from joining the Marine Corps, which would’ve involved a trip to The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, after his time at the academy. He called the move “a personal decision.”
He has been allowed by to participate in the Senior Bowl, pre-draft team workouts with the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots, and the NFL scouting combine, and said academy staffers have been “tremendously helpful” working such activities around an already packed senior-year schedule. He even preserved his performance at the combine for posterity on his Twitter page:
The camera loves me pic.twitter.com/WWUzb1Rt2o
— Joe Cardona (@joecardona93) March 31, 2015
A four-year starter at Navy, Cardona is listed at 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds. Boyer, 34, rarely topped 200 pounds while at Texas and doesn’t top 6 feet. He bulked up to 216 pounds for Texas’ pro day workout last month, according to a San Antonio Express-News article, but these are not numbers that will draw loving looks from NFL personnel departments. One number might, however: As Peter King reported, Boyer had zero inaccurate long snaps during his time with the Longhorns.
He’s also free of military commitments, recently receiving an honorable discharge from the Texas Army National Guard, where he served while playing at Texas. And he looks a little more relaxed than Cardona, but still dangerous, in his Twitter pictures:
I don't have an instagram. But if I did, I'd prefer to post pictures like this… Stay thirsty my friends! pic.twitter.com/dQhqgCzaSy
— Nate Boyer (@NateBoyer37) March 28, 2015
Follow the service member-snappers on Twitter here and here. Learn more about the Caring for Camo charity, which Boyer co-founded as a way to improve the contents of care packages received by deployed soldiers, here. Check back with After Action for roster updates as the draft winds down.