Profile: Joe Callahan
Raised at the Shore, the Eagles newbie hopes for a permanent spot on the team
By Dave Spadaro

At first, it was just business. Released by the Green Bay Packers on April 30, Joe Callahan was suddenly looking for a job in the NFL. One week later the Eagles called, took a look at Callahan and signed him to a two-year deal. Just the business of a crazy league. Then the news broke, and Callahan’s phone blew up. 

Callahan, an Absecon native, was coming home. 

One month later, Joe Callahan feels like he’s a Philadelphia Eagle. You never get too comfortable in this business, as Callahan, a star quarterback at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, has learned very quickly. He’s 24 years old and has played with the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns and now the Eagles. 

Talk about understanding not to take anything for granted. 

“Oh, definitely,” Callahan recently said after taking part in the Eagles’ 22nd annual playground build in Philadelphia. Callahan shares a Philadelphia apartment with three of his high school football teammates, and he’s living in the moment. “This is a day-to-day business, and I am approaching it that way. I come to work every day and try to impress the coaches. I want to stay around for a long time.” 

“It’s a process, you know? You don’t get too comfortable. It’s definitely been an uncommon route to where I am right now. I didn’t get recruited too highly coming out of high school, and then I played football at the Division III level. I had some success there and had only one team call me after the draft, and I made that team. It’s been a crazy ride so far, but I’m happy to be in Philadelphia as an Eagle.” 

You never know. That Callahan is even in this position is remarkable, by NFL standards. Callahan, an Absecon native, was overlooked during his time at Holy Spirit even as he led the Spartans to a 12-0 record and a New Jersey State Championship in his senior season of 2010-2011. He threw for 3,300 yards in his Holy Spirit career, with 40 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. When he had no major college offers despite being named an All-South Jersey quarterback and ranked as the third-best quarterback in the state by the website MaxPreps, Callahan signed with Wesley College, a Division III program in Delaware.  

By the time he graduated Wesley, Callahan had become one of the greatest players in Wolverines’ history. He joined former Hawaii star Colt Brennan as the only quarterbacks at any level of college football history to pass for more than 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a single season. After his senior season, Callahan was named the recipient of the Gagliardi Trophy, Division III’s version of the Heisman Trophy.  

The next step for the best player in Division III? The NFL, of course. But it wasn’t easy to get a foot in the door. The NFL draft of 2016 came and went. Shortly after Green Bay made its final pick in the seventh round, Callahan’s phone rang. It was the Packers. They wanted him as an undrafted rookie. 

For Callahan, who grew up idolizing former Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, it was a dream come true. He bounced around for two seasons and finally, late in the 2017 season, played in a real, live, regular-season game. It was the last game of the regular season and the game was well out of reach, but Callahan went in and completed five of seven passes for 11 yards and took another mini-step forward to make it in the NFL. 

But the Packers chose not to sign Callahan in the spring, and the Eagles added him to their 90-man roster in May. He’s still here, in a quarterback room with superstar Carson Wentz, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and promising third-year man Nate Sudfeld. 

“It’s a great situation for me to learn, to get better every day. That’s ultimately all you can do,” Callahan says.  

“I’ve never given up on a dream. I’ve been working toward being in the NFL since I played in college and now that I’m here, I’m making sure I show up every day prepared, knowing that I’m continuously fighting for my job. You can never lose confidence in yourself. I’ve learned that you always have to do things that set yourself apart from the group and that you’re improving each day.” 

“The guys are great to work with. I mean, they are great players. Carson is the franchise quarterback, Nick won the MVP in the Super Bowl and Nate is trying to make a name for himself in the NFL. With all of that, they’ve welcomed me with open arms. They’ve answered every question I’ve asked. They want me to succeed, and I appreciate that.” 

Callahan enters training camp as the team’s fourth quarterback, and the reality is that the Eagles are probably only going to keep three on the 53-man roster. Maybe Callahan does enough to make the coaches bend the roster in his favor. Maybe he earns a spot on the team’s practice squad. Maybe Callahan plays well enough to impress one of the other 31 teams in the league. 

He just wants to stick. The NFL is his dream, and he’s not giving up on it any time soon. Callahan is back home, where all of South Jersey is rooting for him. He’s heard from dozens of friends and family and plenty of others wishing him well – and also asking for preseason tickets. 

“Yeah, that’s going to be interesting,” Callahan says. “I’m not sure what I can do, but I would love to help as many people as I can. It’s hard, though. Eagles tickets are pretty popular. I grew up outside of Atlantic City, and it’s all Eagles, all the time. I don’t think I can help everyone on this one.” 

That’s ok. Callahan is a local-boy-who-made-it story in a most unconventional manner. He’s an easy guy to root for at 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds dripping wet. He has impressed the coaches with his knowledge of the offense, his ability to get the ball to the right spots on time and his presence in the locker room. 

He has a shot. And he’s going to make the most of it. 

“Nobody has given me anything, and maybe that’s made me appreciate things more,” Callahan says.  

“Being in Green Bay was pretty incredible. A dream come true. I played in Lambeau Field. Great experience, even though my time there was up and down with the roster moves they made with me. That’s in the past now, and I think you learn as you go through the various situations you’re put in. You deal with stress. You work hard. I think everything is a life lesson.” 

“I can play at this level. I’ve made the jump from a Division III school, and now I’m just like every other third-year guy fighting to make a team.” 

July 2018
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