If the jump from Division III to the NFL is akin to jumping from North America to Europe, then that same jump for a quarterback would be like jumping from North America to Mars.
Since 1986, only two Division III quarterbacks have been drafted — John Carroll’s Larry Wanke by the Giants in the 12th round in 1991 and Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Kirk Baumgartner by the Packers in the ninth round in 1990. Going back further, in 1985, the Packers drafted Joe Shield from Trinity (Conn.). He was the first Division III quarterback to be drafted since Jack Berry of Washington and Lee University by the Buccaneers in 1976.
Neither Wanke nor Baumgartner made a roster; Shield did but never threw a pass. The last Division III quarterback of note? Augustana's Ken Anderson by the Bengals in the third round in 1971.
Joe Callahan wasn’t drafted, but his strong ending to the Green Bay Packers’ offseason practices has put him in position to join Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley on Green Bay’s roster.
“Every day’s a learning experience but I feel like I fit in with these guys,” Callahan said last week.
For a small-school player to get a shot in the NFL, he must, first and foremost, have dominant production. Callahan dominated in unprecedented fashion. As a senior at Wesley, Callahan won Division III’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy by becoming the first player in D-3 history to top 5,000 passing yards. Callahan and former Hawaii star Colt Brennan are the only players in college football history to throw for 5,000 yards and 55 touchdowns in a season.
Of course, there’s a big difference between completing a pass against William Patterson (that’s a school on Wesley’s schedule) or Sam Shields (that’s a cornerback on the Packers’ roster).
Callahan, however, hasn’t shrunk from the competition.
“He’s done a really good job with a number of things fundamentally, just starting with the way his ball carriage — the way he carries the football,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s a playmaker. I think he’s going to be fun to watch once the games start.”
Callahan’s ability to make plays on the move had been evident throughout the offseason. On Thursday, the final day of the three-day minicamp, he displayed his arm talent. During a two-minute drill, Callahan showed his touch when he looped a corner route over the defensive back and into the hands of Herb Williams for a gain of 25 on the sideline. Then, in the final seconds, he rifled a pass into the end zone to Waters for a 17-yard touchdown despite tight coverage from safety Jermaine Whitehead. Later, safety Chris Banjo went for an interception but Callahan’s pass was impeccably placed for a big gain to Waters.
“I’m confident that I can make every throw on the field,” Callahan said. “I’ve never felt like arm strength was ever something to question with me.”
Nor was athletic ability. Callahan’s knack for extending the play and finding receivers on the move was something that has impressed McCarthy.
“It’s something that we worked on in college and it’s something that we emphasize here,” Callahan said. “The play never ends. Even if you get sacked or something, you just keep working and work the scramble drill and look for an outlet. That’s something that we work on and I think it’s one of the strengths of my game.”
When McCarthy allowed his veteran players to skip the mandatory minicamp, it was an acknowledgment of the grind that’s to come with an extra week of training camp and an extra preseason game. It also was an opportunity for the younger players to get more reps. Callahan reaped the rewards by stepping into the No. 2 role behind Hundley.
“I felt like the last couple of days was huge for me,” Callahan said. “It gave me an opportunity to get extra reps, and that’s big with the offense. The more reps I can get, it’s experience at almost game speed. This week, I feel like I’m leaving on a good note. I have confidence going into the offseason.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.