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Service Academy Athletes in the Pros: Griffin and Cardona Prepare for Championship Runs

New Orleans Saints tight end Garrett Griffin and New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona are gearing up for NFL Conference Championship Games this weekend

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

We have tried to highlight service academy graduates who have found their way into professional athletics a couple of times since starting Against All Enemies back in the fall. Now seems like as good of a time as any to catch everyone up on a couple of players who will be suiting up in conference championship games and representing not only their NFL teams but service academies and service members across the globe this weekend!

Joe Cardona, LS, New England Patriots, USNA ‘15

Cardona has had a busy season in his fourth season for the New England Patriots. The 2015 Naval Academy graduate and fifth round pick of the Pats received a four-year contract extension in the offseason before entering the final year of his rookie deal. Cardona has played in every game for the Patriots since being drafted, balancing his professional NFL career with time in the US Navy Reserves.

His connection with the military and local New England community has not gone unnoticed as Cardona was awarded the 2018 Ron Burton Community Service Award by the Patriots.

Clearly Joe is representing the Naval Academy well on and off the field and he is no stranger to the AFC Championship Game at this point as he will suit up in the contest for the fourth time in as many years with the Pats, having won Super Bowl LI with the team. He is a staple for them on special teams and will be a part of the team for at least the next four years.

Interesting enough, Yahoo Sports reported that Cardona actually has a pretty good kicking leg despite being a long snapper and has drilled some from 50 yards out in practice and warm ups before. No one in Boston wants Stephen Gostkowski to go down, but if they are in a pinch, apparently Joe is willing to step in and give field goals a try!

The Patriots will head on the road as underdogs to face Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs at 6:40 PM ET on CBS this Sunday.

Garrett Griffin, TE, New Orleans Saints, USAFA ‘16

Suiting up in the conference championship game in the NFC will be former Air Force Falcons player Garrett Griffin. Similar to Cardona, Griffin graduated at the perfect time, working into the small window of time that allowed service academy graduates to try their hands at professional athletics and trade in their active duty commitments for time in the Reserves rather than being required to serve at least two years on active duty before applying to their respective service branches for a waiver of the remainder of their active duty commitment. That rule, only officially in place for one year before being changed back paved the way for Griffin to spend the last three seasons on the Saints practice squad.

This will be a new feat for Griffin as he will be appearing in a conference championship game for the first time. Though he appeared in the final three games of the 2017 season, he was on the practice squad all year this year before getting activated just last weekend ahead of the Saints playoff run.

As Air Force beat writer Brent Briggeman highlighted following Sunday’s divisional round matchup, Griffin played a part in two key runs that cemented the victory for the Saints. He had a key block that sprung Alvin Kamara for a game clinching first down late in the fourth quarter and was also in the game on a big Mark Ingram run earlier in the fourth that led to a field goal.

The Saints will host the Rams and Sean Mc’Bae’ at 3:05 PM ET on Fox.

I have seen a potential Patriots-Saints matchup listed as the least preferred or exciting possibility on several Twitter feeds heading into the weekend, but from my perspective here at AAE, bring it on! That way, we know a service academy grad will be guaranteed to lift the Lombardi Trophy and earn a Super Bowl ring!