For the Green Bay Packers’ undrafted rookies, their long-shot journeys to Sunday’s regular-season opener at Jacksonville started almost four months ago.
Four of them made it, including defensive backs Josh Hawkins, Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans, but quarterback Joe Callahan was the longest of long shots. He was the national player of the year at Wesley College as a senior, but that was Division III. A Division III quarterback hasn’t truly made it in the NFL since Ken Anderson, a third-round pick by the Bengals in 1971. Who knows if Callahan will carve out any sort of NFL career, but he earned his way onto the roster.
“This is just clearly Joe Callahan earning the job,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “I mean, how the hell does he not make the team? It was clear. Just watch the games, watch the video.”
Callahan, however, wasn’t sure what to expect when his phone rang on Cutdown Saturday. He recognized the number. Would it be good news? Or bad? He braced himself for the worst.
“I got a little nervous when I saw the phone number come up,” Callahan said.
It was quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt. After some small talk, he delivered the news.
“He said, ‘Just wanted to let you know, congrats, you made the 53,’” Callahan recalled.
The rest of the conversation was a blur.
“From then on, I really don’t remember what I said. I got the news I was hoping for.”
Callahan then called his family. He doesn’t remember those conversations, either. At least the coaches remembered his body of work in training camp and the preseason. It was that performance that made Callahan the Cinderella story of training camp.
“I always made it my goal and I never lost sight of that,” he said. “Obviously, I had to prove myself as camp went on and the coaches were pleased with what they saw.”
Hawkins was a long shot, too, based on where he came from. Hawkins walked on at East Carolina. He wound up starting 28 games there and logging nine interceptions, including five as a junior. The Packers love ballhawking cornerbacks, and Hawkins grabbed two interceptions in the preseason.
“I just came into work every day and worked hard,” he said. “I walked on at East Carolina so I took it as the same challenge. I had the same exact mind-set. I knew it was going to be hard work, I knew I was going to have to come here and battle every day, and that’s what I did.”
While Hawkins found out through social media, Evans learned through safeties coach Darren Perry after a sleepless Friday night. As was the case with Callahan, Evans didn’t know what to expect when he saw the “920” area code pop up on his phone. He certainly had played well enough to make the roster, but safety is arguably the deepest position on the roster, with four returning players and stellar play from another undrafted rookie, Brice. It wasn’t too long ago that the Packers didn’t have two safeties worth having on the roster. Never mind keeping six.
“He just told me, ‘You made the 53-man roster,’” Evans said. “I was asking, ‘Are you joking?’ Then I was like, ‘Thank you, Coach.’
Evans, a native of Oak Creek, Wis., is another tremendous long-shot story. His father was murdered when he was 3 and he was raised by his mother and grandfather. Evans played at two junior colleges before he landed at Utah State, where he started only as a senior. Not only didn’t he get drafted, but he wasn’t signed after the draft, either. He got a tryout at Seattle’s rookie camp but wasn’t signed by the Seahawks. Finally, the Packers signed him on May 10.
Evans is big, fast and physical – all good attributes. Like the others, he knows that making the roster isn’t the finish line.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” Evans said. “It’s something you can finally look back on and say, ‘I made it.’ All that hard work, all the grinding, working out, practicing, it’s finally paying off. I’m not going to say it paid off because I’m still working and I’m still grinding. But it’s paying off. I’m starting to see the back end of it.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.