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Navy long snapper Joe Cardona making bid for NFL at scouting combine

Reporter Aaron Wilson talks about a dozen players from the Baltimore area or local colleges at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

INDIANAPOLIS — When Joe Cardona grips a football and fires it backward between his legs, the Navy long snapper does so with a high degree of precision.

His snaps have been clocked at 41 miles per hour, reaching the punter's hands in less than a second. And the four-year starter and scholarship football player is regarded as talented enough by NFL teams that he was the only long snapper invited to the scouting combine.

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What Cardona doesn't have control of is whether Navy officials will allow him to play in the NFL next season due to his pending service commitment. Cardona is required to serve five years in the Navy as an officer and will be commissioned in May.

There have been exceptions granted in the past, though, including special clearance given to former Navy fullback Eric Kettani, which allowed him to play in the NFL.

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"Ultimately, it's whatever the Navy wants to do with me and I'm ready and willing to do whatever they ask," Cardona said Wednesday. "It's something that I'm definitely looking into applying for. All that comes down to the needs of the Navy and what they foresee me doing and how they want me to serve, what they see serving the country."

Cardona has practiced snapping a few times with Ravens long snapper Morgan Cox, whom he credited for helping him shape his technique.

During his flight from Baltimore to Indianapolis on Tuesday afternoon, Cardona met Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a longtime former special teams coach.

"I shook his hand as I walked by and introduced myself," Cardona said. "It was a pleasure meeting him for sure."

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The NFL draft is April 30 to May 2, but it's unclear if a decision will be reached on Cardona's status by then. If that remains undetermined, it could make NFL teams hesitant to draft Cardona.

In 2008, former Army standout Caleb Campbell was drafted in the seventh round by the Detroit Lions and signed to a contract. The Army then changed its stance on Campbell and wouldn't allow him to delay his service commitment. After serving two years in the military, Campbell played for a few years in the NFL.

"I don't know him, but I know his story," Cardona said.

The Navy gave Cardona a special dispensation to play in the Senior Bowl and clearance to participate in the NFL scouting combine.

If Cardona isn't allowed to play immediately in the NFL, he says he doesn't view that as a negative. Cardona will graduate as a Marine in May and then head to The Basic School at Quantico.

"I don't see any downside to it," Cardona said. "It's a guaranteed job and a career that a lot of people really aspire to be. It's a really honorable thing to be, to be a Naval officer. I look forward to whatever I do the next two years, whether it's in the NFL or leading sailors and Marines. I'm excited for whatever comes next. Getting the opportunity to play football is a dream come true and I hope it comes to fruition.

"The biggest advice I've gotten is you have to be successful in everything you do to get an opportunity like this to play in the NFL. You have to be successful as a Naval officer for them to consider any exemptions. You have to be a standup individual who has shown he can represent the Navy at this level and on this stage."

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