Former Navy football player Chris Wade discovered a unique hobby during the pandemic.
Forced to work from home for three months, Wade found time to explore a creative outlet that had always sparked his interest. The 2004 Naval Academy graduate began designing custom shoes and cleats.
After a year of refining his craftsmanship, Wade got ambitious and set a goal of designing cleats for former Navy football players on NFL rosters. He learned about the My Cause, My Cleats program that allows players to “reveal their passions beyond the game and wear their hearts on their feet.”
Wade reached out to Joe Cardona of the New England Patriots, Malcolm Perry of the Miami Dolphins and Cameron Kinley of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during training camp this summer to pitch the idea of designing custom cleats for them.
“I knew we had some Navy Football Brotherhood members in the NFL, so I reached out to them about doing cleats,” Wade said. “I was fortunate to be able to connect with Joe, Malcolm and Cam and made a pair of cleats for all those guys.”
Perry’s cleats were made in Miami Dolphins colors since that was the team he was with at the time. The former record-setting quarterback at Navy turned wide receiver in the NFL was subsequently cut by the Dolphins and claimed off waivers by the New England Patriots. He is currently on injured reserve and has yet to play in a game this season.
Kinley was released by the Buccaneers in August after the first preseason game and remains a free agent.
However, Cardona is now in his seventh season as the starting long snapper for the Patriots and wore the cleats designed by Wade during the season opener on Sept. 12. The 2015 Naval Academy graduate, who was New England’s fifth-round pick in that year’s NFL draft, went with a patriotic theme.
Cardona’s left cleat was recognition of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and featured numerous relevant elements. Imprinted on the heel was the “Don’t Forget” slogan with an image of the Pentagon. Also included on the left cleat were NYPD and FDYN in honor of the New York police and fire departments along with the words Honor, Courage, Commitment.
The right cleat honored the 13 service members killed during the Aug. 26 terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Wade imprinted the names of 11 Marines, as well as the one Army soldier and one Navy personnel, who died. Also imprinted are the numbers 2/1 to represent the 2nd battalion, 1st Marines.
“There’s no question this weekend holds a lot of significance, especially for every service member and veteran that joined after 9/11,” Cardona told The Capital in advance of the season opener. “We said from the outset ‘Never Forget’ and we choose to honor those that sacrificed that day and those that have continued to sacrifice over the last 20 years for our freedoms and the oppression of terror around the world.”
Cardona initially wanted both cleats to feature a 9/11 theme, but Wade suggested using the other to honor the service members most recently killed in Afghanistan.
“It’s a small thing for me to wear cleats representing 9/11 and the recent terrorist attack,” Cardona said. “It means a lot to me personally to be able to go out on the field and pay tribute to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Cardona said it was “an easy ask” to work with a fellow former Navy football player and came away highly impressed with Wade’s craftsmanship. While the custom-designed footwear would seem to fit well with the My Cause, My Cleats program, Cardona was aware the NFL closely monitors each player’s uniform to ensure every element is in keeping with established standards.
“If the NFL wants to fine me for wearing cleats that commemorate 9/11 and honor fallen service members, I will gladly accept that fine,” Cardona said.
After wearing the special cleats in the season opener against the Dolphins, Cardona planned to auction them off for a charitable cause.
Wade played linebacker and defensive end for the Navy football program and lettered during the 2003 season. He served as a ground supply officer in the Marine Corps and deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq.
After leaving the Marine Corps in 2012, he went to work for the Packaging Corporation of America and is currently purchasing manager for the mill in Valdosta, Georgia.
“I’m looking to keep this side hustle going and hoping to find more players to make cleats for,” Wade said. “It’s really awesome when your work is on the NFL stage and on television.”
Chasing the dream
Former Navy football standout Sean Williams still has hopes of playing in the NFL.
Williams, defensive captain of the 2018 team, has stayed in shape while putting out feelers to professional teams. The Memphis, Tennessee, native received an opportunity this past summer when he was invited to try out for the New England Patriots at the start of training camp.
Head coach Bill Belichick chose not to sign Williams as a free agent, but the two-time honorable mention All-American Athletic Conference selection felt he performed well and was encouraged by the tryout.
“I was as close as I’ve ever come to realizing that dream,” Williams said. “I’ve come too close to give up now. I have way too much invested. I feel like I’m about to break through the ice sometime soon.”
Williams is a surface warfare officer assigned to the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier home-ported in Norfolk, Virginia. He made a request through his chain of command to try out for the Patriots and was allowed to take leave time to do so.
The 2019 Naval Academy graduate has worked hard to stay in football playing shape.
“I trained at almost every moment possible,” he said. “Every time we would return home to port, I would hit up my personal trainers. If we were out to sea, I’d been in a storeroom doing workouts or running on the flight deck.”
Navy football podcast
Former Navy football players Eric Kettani and Keenan Reynolds are co-hosting a podcast focused solely on Navy football.
Two of the most outstanding offensive players of the triple-option era deliver their insights and analysis about the program on the podcast titled “Bleav in Navy Football.”
Kettani was a standout fullback for the Midshipmen 2006-08 and played in the NFL for the New England Patriots, Washington Football Team, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars.
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Reynolds was a four-year starting quarterback for Navy from 2012-15, is the program’s all-time leading rusher 4,559 career yards and holds the Football Bowl Subdivision record with 88 rushing touchdowns.