Army veteran and University of Texas player Nate Boyer and the Naval Academy's Joe Cardona have both connected with pro football teams during the NFL Draft this past weekend in Chicago. Both players are long snap specialists but each has taken a very different path to his NFL opportunity. Both players have shots with recent Super Bowl winners: Boyer signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent and Cardona was selected by the New England Patriots in the fifth round.
We wrote about 34-year-old Green Beret Nate Boyer's NFL dreams last month. Boyer joined the Longhorns football as walk-on and eventually beat out a scholarship player to become the team's designated long snapper. If Boyer makes the Seahawks, he'll be the oldest player on the team roster and the oldest rookie in the history of the NFL.
Boyer's high school didn't offer football, so he'd never played the game when he first tried out for the Texas team as a defensive back in 2012. The coaches told him he was too short (5'11") and way too slow to compete, so Boyer decided he'd learn to be a long snapper and made the squad after he returned from a tour of duty overseas.
Even if you fought as a Green Beret, the amount of tenacity it takes to decide to become a football player at the age of 30 is hard to grasp. Boyer thinks it's just down to hard work: "I'm just proud that if you believe no matter what everybody tells you, no matter what the world tells you, no matter what your head tells you, if you just believe anything is possible and keep pushing, good things happen. I'm proud that other people are going to be able to look at this and pursue those dreams."
Cardona has seen a far more traditional path to the NFL: four years of success in college and significant interest from the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts led to his selection by the Patriots, a team known for its skill in using NFL draft picks. Coach Bill Belichick wouldn't make a sentimental or symbolic pick: he wants Cardona to play.
Of course, Cardona (unlike Boyer) has yet to fulfill his service obligation. He owes the U.S. government five years and will graduate as a Marine this month before heading to The Basic School at Quantico. The Navy gave him special dispensation to play in the Senior Bowl and work out at the NFL scouting combine, so they may give him a clearance to play pro football.
Whatever happens, Cardona is grateful for the opportunities. "I don't see any downside to it," he 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."