2016-01-21 / Front Page

NAPS M­­entor Joe Cardona Long Snaps for Pats

By James Merolla

Ensign Joe Cardona, NAPS Command Duty Officer, passes along instruction to Midshipman Candidate Quinn Barber, NAPS Battalion Commander following morning formation. 
(Photo by Mark Donahue) Ensign Joe Cardona, NAPS Command Duty Officer, passes along instruction to Midshipman Candidate Quinn Barber, NAPS Battalion Commander following morning formation. (Photo by Mark Donahue) Joe Cardona splits his week between NAPS and snaps.

Cardona, a strapping San Diego, Calif. native and naval officer, mentors 227 students at the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS), spending 30-plus hours every week in Newport. He then spends an additional 40 hours per week in Foxboro, Mass., snapping 100 footballs per day to be kicked as punts, field goals or extra points on critical special teams.

In April, on the third day of the NFL draft, Patriots coach Bill Belichick selected Cardona in the fifth round with the 166th pick. The majority of so-called experts thought he "went a little hoodie" for choosing a midshipman from the U.S. Naval Academy who had yet to serve a five-year tour of duty and who will eventually be deployed overseas.

Joe Cardona on special teams. 
(Photo courtesy of the NewEngland Patriots/David Silverman) Joe Cardona on special teams. (Photo courtesy of the NewEngland Patriots/David Silverman) But Ensign Cardona, six-foot-three, 250 pounds, is a product of a school where Belichick’s beloved late father served as a coach and scout for three decades. The team made Cardona the first Navy football player taken in the NFL draft in more than 20 years.

He has already demonstrated a spectacular work ethic and a special teams consistency that Belichick covets, forged from the discipline of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Cardona is responsible for the welfare and activities of the students within the NAPS dorm. He knows the school well. Cardona was a NAPS student from 2010- 2011. He has returned to elevate the game of the student-athletes who aspire to the Naval Academy.

On this Tuesday, Cardona is the Command Duty Officer (CDO). He rises in the dark at 5:30 a.m. from his apartment in Dedham, Mass., and drives to NAPS for a 24-hour duty shift. Cardona sees the flags raised at dawn. He will walk the frigid grounds, supervising the students from 8 a.m. through the night to 8 a.m. the next day.

The swirling campus is subfreezing and student boots have dragged mud and ice into all the buildings. “They will have to mop that up,” said Cardona, who had that duty himself five years before on those very same floors. The duty section roster platoon now reports to him. “They’ll see this on the floors and say, ‘Oh, man.’ It’s not something they look forward to. But this has really brought me full circle. Coming back here is really cool for me. Being away from home was something that influenced me to be a hard worker. I put that hard work to use and that has put me where I am today.”

Cardona’s dad served more than two decades as a naval officer. His influence steadies his son’s wide shoulders against changing winds. Cardona is used to those winds. He has to be. On Sunday, Jan. 24, he joins his 52 other Patriot teammates in Denver, Colorado to face the Broncos for a chance to win the AFC Championship and go to the Super Bowl.

It’s an unconvenstional way to begin his military commitment; with both the Navy and the Patriots working almost symbiotically to make Cardona’s split call work efficiently for months.

Cardona helps coach the NAPS football team and is attached to the athletic program as a coach and mentor. “With 220 kids, my role is to interact with the student body. It’s a great chance to relate to these kids, to bring some of my experiences to them. They will be at Annapolis next year,” said Cardona.

On Wednesday afternoon, it’s back to Gillette Stadium for long hours of snapping practice, then it's back down to Newport on Thursday to monitor study hall.

“It may not always be ideal for a practice schedule, but it is what it has to be,” added Cardona. “I couldn’t ask for more. The Patriots have been more than willing to work with my schedule and the Navy has been really supportive.”

Cardona is used to long hours and the back and forth, but cherishes what he calls “the stability of life in the Navy. There are times you are away from family, deployments, but I am used to it. It’s something I take great pride in. I am extremely lucky to be an officer here.”

He also counts himself among the fortunate to follow in the tradition of great athletes who went to the Naval Academy, then became the best in their games – Heisman Trophy winner and NFL champion Roger Staubach and NBA champion David Robinson among them. “They were the best ever to play their respective sports,” said Cardona. “Just to be mentioned among them is a tremendous honor.”

From the rear of the student dormitory at sunset, two officers stand at rapt attention as the flags are lowered for the day. “You are living a collegiate life, but you are constantly reminded of the greater purpose and what you are really doing here,” said Cardona. “Whatever you are doing, even the helmets come off at football practice and you face the flag.”

He has been flawless in his long snapping for the Patriots, the best way to prove the experts wrong. “It’s not the pundits who are important,” laughed Cardona. “Stephen Gostkowski [the great Patriots kicker] is important. Coach Belichick has a record that is pretty well known.

“You have to be prepared for anything out there, whether the opportunity arises or not,” said Cardona, who never knows how many times his team might kick in a game. “It’s a strange position. We snap on fourth down when the offense doesn’t make first down, so I’m only going in on a bad situation, but I have to be as prepared as possible for such an important part of the game."

He said being drafted by the Patriots was a dream come true. “It’s really the perfect situation, being chosen by New England,” said Cardona. “And I’ve come back to a place that helped shape me."

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