From the Sports Editor: Joe Callahan beat the odds to make it on an NFL team

 

When the call finally came, it caught Joe Callahan off-guard.

The former Wesley College football star knew at some point he’d be learning his NFL fate on Saturday.

But when his phone finally rang and Green Bay Packers’ quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt was on the other end, there was a moment when Callahan didn’t know if it was good news or bad.

Joe Callahan

Joe Callahan

“I got a little nervous when I first saw the phone number come up,” Callahan admitted. “He started off the phone call like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’

“Then he said, ‘Just want to let you know ‘congrats,’ you made the 53.’ From then on, I don’t really remember what I said but I got the news I was hoping for.”

Joe Callahan will probably get to tell that story a lot over the years — because it really is an amazing one.

The Wesley College football program could go on to send 10 more players to the NFL and it would never top this.

In an NFL world where size and speed and strength and pedigree carry so much weight, 6-foot-1 Joe Callahan somehow beat the odds and made it onto an honest-to-goodness, regular-season 53-man roster.

There aren’t many people outside of Dover or Callahan’s hometown of Absecon, N.J., who would have even believed it was possible just a couple months ago.

The even-keeled Callahan, though, made it because he apparently didn’t dwell on all those things. Like he did at Wesley, he just went out and played football like he belonged.

Even Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy said he’d never seen a story quite like Callahan’s.

“This is clearly Joe Callahan earning a job,” said McCarthy. “How the hell is he not on your team? I think it was clear, just watch the games, watch the video.

“Very happy for him personally because you always like to see a guy grab hold of an opportunity, and I thought it was very obvious what he accomplished in the preseason.”

“I’m really excited for him,” said the Packers’ star QB, Aaron Rodgers. “To be a DIII Heisman (winner) and come in here and show the type of improvement that he’s showed, it’s exciting.

“I think one thing that has to be really special is to go from the ‘green mile’ as they used to call it, which is the back locker room, to the front locker room. Talk about an exciting time.”

In Dover on Saturday, Wesley coach Mike Drass was agonizing over the game film of the Wolverines’ season-opening loss to Delaware Valley the night before. But a text from Callahan, saying he’d made the Packers’ roster, put a smile on his face.

While Wesley had a few players reach the NFL in its junior-college days, Callahan is the first ex-Wolverine to make it since Wesley became an NCAA Division III program in 1987. Callahan also put in a call to Wolverine offensive coordinator Chip Knapp.

“He was on cloud nine,” said Drass. “And we were just so excited for him. I called his dad and was like, ‘Hey, is this the father of an NFL quarterback?’

“Here’s a guy that, maybe coming out (of college), you wouldn’t think he would have the best shot,” said Drass, comparing Callahan to other Wolverines who have gotten NFL tryouts. “You get that text and that call (from Callahan) and life is good for a second.”

After throwing 88 passes in the preseason, the tough part now is that it might be a long time before Callahan gets to actually play in a game again. He’ll be the Packers’ No. 3 quarterback behind Rodgers and former UCLA star Brett Hundley.

In the 2015 regular season, Rodgers threw 572 of the 573 passes that Green Bay attempted all year.

Still, a Wesley quarterback in the NFL? Unbelievable.

“I always made it my goal and I never lost sight of that,” said Callahan. “But obviously I had to prove myself as camp went on. The coaches were pleased with what they saw.

“I try to take it one day at a time — don’t get too excited. We’re still here to accomplish a goal and you can’t lose sight of that.”

Just for starters

As is usually the case, many Henlopen Conference schools won’t just quietly tiptoe into the start of the fall sports season, they’ll jump in with both feet.

For starters, all 14 downstate football teams will be in action either Friday night or during the day on Saturday.

Caesar Rodney might face as tough an opening-night task as any Henlopen squad on the gridiron with a 7:30 p.m. game at perennial Division I state power Middletown on Friday.

Dover’s field hockey team heads to Wilmington on Friday to see where its stands against longtime state title contender Tower Hill (4 p.m.).

In boys’ soccer, Dover will host the annual DAAD Upstate/Downstate Challenge. Seven games are slated between 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Among the marquee matchups, CR will face Wilmington Charter at 3:30 p.m. with Sussex Tech squaring off with Salesianum at 5:30 p.m. Remember, two years ago in this event, the Ravens played the Sals to a scoreless tie.

Also on Saturday, the annual Lake Forest Invitational cross country meet will be run at Killens Pond State Park. Fifteen teams are scheduled to take part in the event that helps set the stage for the rest of the season.

In case you missed it, you can read about all 14 Henlopen Conference teams in our 28-page high school football section that ran in today’s paper.

Odds & ends

•Since helping the U.S. women’s basketball team win the Olympic gold medal in Rio, Elena Delle Donne has led the Chicago Sky to a 4-0 mark in the WNBA. The former Delaware star has averaged 27.25 points, 7.25 rebounds and 2.75 assists in those four contests.

“One of my roles is being a scorer for this team … so I’m just trying to always be on attack,” said Delle Donne.

•Caesar Rodney High grad Lexi Prillaman now has a team-high seven goals and an assist for the Richmond women’s soccer team. Dover High grad Caroline Cashion had 12 saves against the Spiders in Holy Cross’ 3-2 overtime loss to Richmond last week.

•The University of Delaware has seven former players on NFL rosters. Among FCS Division I football programs, that ties the Blue Hens with Montana and North Dakota State for the most NFL players right now.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.