FOXBORO -- Joe Cardona cleaned out his locker at Gillette Stadium on Monday, the top of his blue Navy working uniform hanging in his stall, and he thought about what was ahead.
After finishing his rookie season, the Patriots long-snapper will head to Newport, Rhode Island to work full-time at the Naval Preparatory Academy, where he spent his days off during the season, helping to mentor students there.
Later, he'll make his way down to Norfolk, Virginia where he'll spend about two months and participate in Navy's Basic Division Officer Course, or "BDOC," which is required before he can report to his ship as a Surface Warfare Officer. From there, he'll travel to Bath, Maine, to work on the USS Zumwalt.
"I'll get to work there and figure out a schedule that doesn't interfere with either of my jobs," Cardona said, "and hopefully be back on the field next year."
Since being drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round, Cardona has maintained that his job as an active member of the Navy is his his top priority. He knows that whether or not he's able to pursue his NFL career rests in the hands of those up the chain of command, and he's thankful for the support he's received from both the Navy and the Patriots as he's fulfilled his duties for both jobs.
Cardona said that the sailors and Marines he has worked with closely have been especially supportive throughout his first NFL season, and he's looking forward to seeing them more now that the season is over.
"They'll be mostly proud," he said. "They've been excited for me all year. You have all these people who are probably fans of other teams from all over the country, and I think they all converted to New England fans with me down there. They'll be proud, and they've been supportive all year. It's something I'll look forward to, getting down there."
Given his commitment to the Navy, there remains the possibility that Cardona could be kept away from the field next season, but for now he'll look toward improving himself for the 2016 campaign while focusing on his service to the country.
"There's always room for improvement," Cardona said. "As a specialist, your main goal is perfection in your job and your duty. There's always room for improvement in that."