Navy Midshipmen

Most Tuesdays are off days for the New England Patriots, but for Joe Cardona they're anything but. While his teammates rest, the team's long-snapper drives south to the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, where he performs a 24-hour shift involving all manner of tasks: Answering phones, monitoring classrooms, overseeing mess hall meals, and making sure students get the academic guidance they need.

Cardona wakes up at 5 a.m. to arrive in time for his 8 a.m. shift. If he's lucky, he can snag a few hours of sleep at night. But then he's up again at five in the morning and off at eight, at which time he drives north to face a team practice with the Patriots.

Joe Cardona

This is the life of the NFL's only active-duty serviceman. A former Navy standout, Cardona has found a way to juggle the demands of two extremely taxing careers -- and at the same time, no less.

"Your body is tired, but when it comes down to it, I've got a job to do, Cardona told VICE Sports last month. "Just like anything else. If you're standing watch on a ship late at night, you still have to do your job the next day. I just show up, do my best, and be a professional not only in the Navy but as a long snapper."

Cardona is able to meet these challenges thanks to a confluence of favorable circumstances. One is his Naval Academy training, which taught the work ethic necessary to undertake such a difficult career path in the first place.

There's also the matter of the Navy's willingness to provide some accommodation for football. Cardona is lucky to be stationed so close to the Patriots' practice facilities, and to have an on-duty assignment that fits so well into the Patriots' practice and game schedules. Keep in mind, Cardona could be stationed many places -- he could be deployed, biding his time on a Naval craft, or working at any other Naval bases across the U.S. or around the world.

Bill Belichick

But even with all that, Cardona needed not only NFL-caliber talent, but a football coach who was willing to accommodate his unique situation. He found that in Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

The Patriots selected Cardona in the fifth round of the 2015 draft -- higher than most long-snappers typically go. Cardona had an impressive career with the Midshipmen, starting as the long-snapper all four years and never earning a bad snap to his record. But New England's interest in him may have more to do with Belichick's history than anything else.

Belichick, after all, is a big fan of the Navy and studies Naval history as a hobby. His father, Steve Belichick, was a veteran of the Navy who later went on to be the head coach of the Midshipman. Belichick's formative years were spent adoring Navy's football team.

He has maintained that fondness as Patriots' head coach, and there's good reason to think he had a soft spot for Cardona -- especially since the long-snapper could make meaningful contributions to the team.

So far, Belichick is pleased with what he's seen.

Joe Cardona

"I think Joe has done a real good job of [balancing his obligations]," Belichick said at a press conference Wednesday. "He's here when he can be here and when he's not here we know where he is."

Meanwhile, Cardona's job involves more than merely serving his time to both parties. As a rookie, Cardona is tasked with acclimating to the increased speed and strength of the professional game. His long-term NFL career is far from guaranteed, so his rookie season needs to demonstrate growth from start to finish.

According to Belichick, those markers of success are starting to come.

"I think he's done a good job of managing his time and working as hard as he can on the things he needs to improve on, which again, it's a big jump from what he did last year [at Navy] to what he's doing this year and the precision, the execution and the timing and so forth," Belichick said.

There's also a risk that a re-assignment -- or a deployment -- could interfere with Cardona's Patriots tenure, and possibly jeopardize his NFL career entirely. But that's a concern that's out of both his and the Patriots' hands.

In the meantime, Cardona is busy living two dreams at once -- serving the Navy and playing in the NFL. He won't complain about his fortune.

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