Locked out of a pro day, small-college QB Joe Callahan found way to impress Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- NFL scouts don't often make their way to Wesley College in Dover, Delaware, but Mike Owen wanted to see its quarterback, Joe Callahan, before the draft.

The Green Bay Packers' area scout was scheduled to attend Monmouth's pro day on March 9 in West Long Branch, New Jersey -- about 70 miles from Callahan's home -- and called Callahan to see if he could meet him there for a workout.

Callahan, who had yet to hear from any NFL teams, jumped at the chance.

But there was a not-so-minor detail.

"Monmouth wouldn't actually let me into their pro day," Callahan said.

Instead, he waited for Monmouth's players to finish, and he held an impromptu pro day of his own for Owen and a couple of other scouts who stuck around to see what a Gagliardi Trophy winner (Division III's equivalent of the Heisman) looks like.

Little did Callahan know, but the Packers had already seen him -- on film. His offensive coordinator at Wesley, Chip Knapp, spliced together highlights and sent them to Green Bay. Knowing that teams aren't going to spend a lot of time on a Division III quarterback, even one who threw for more than 5,000 yards (a D-III record) and 55 touchdowns as a senior, Knapp didn't bury the lead.

"When I sent the Packers' scout the film, the first play was one of his best throws," Knapp said in a phone interview this week. "He was running to his right, getting hit and throwing a 50-yard strike on a line. He hit the guy in stride on the goal line. I put that one first because people, they question arm strength coming from Division III, so they can see he can throw the ball accurately 50 yards on a line."

It didn't matter to Knapp that the play was wiped out by a penalty.

"You watch that play, and that's all you need to see as far as I'm concerned," he said. "You can see on film how quick the ball got there and in stride. If anyone wants to check that out, that's all you need to see."

Knapp loves to tell the story of their game against Mount Union, the perennial Division III power. Wesley fell behind 31-0 in the first quarter, and Callahan had completed just 1-of-5 passes for 5 yards.

"I said, 'Hey Joe, you've got to start making some plays here. Let's go, man, this is a big game,'" Knapp recalled. "He has a way of just saying, 'Yeah OK, I got it.' Everyone makes fun of how calm he is, so he just went out there and put the team on his back. We didn't run the ball the rest of the game and if it wasn't for a dropped a pass, we might have won the game. We came back to 62-59."

In the final three quarters, Callahan threw eight touchdowns.

Scoff at the idea that a Division III quarterback could make an NFL roster if you want, but the 6-foot-1 Callahan isn't just relying on his play at Wesley. After his senior season, he went to work with former NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler, who owns the Sports Academy at Brookwood Camps in New York. Fielder -- who played 10 years for the Eagles, Vikings, Jaguars, Dolphins and Jets -- helped refine his throwing motion and footwork while preparing him to play under center in a pro-style offense; at Wesley, Callahan played almost exclusively in the shotgun.

"For him, coming out of a D-III program, he was a little-known guy," Fiedler said in a phone interview this week. "Even though he was the player of the year and put up some huge numbers, the nation doesn't really know who Joe Callahan is. That included NFL scouts.

"The biggest thing we worked on is to make sure that he's adaptable to any offense that he's going to end up going into. He's not going to go into a situation where they build an offense around his strengths. Their offense is built around what Aaron Rodgers does, not what Joe Callahan can do. He's going to have to go in and make sure that everything they ask of Aaron Rodgers, he's able to accomplish and perform efficiently and with some proficiency as well."

Callahan is one of four quarterbacks on the Packers' roster. Behind Rodgers, second-year pro Brett Hundley has the backup job all but locked up. For now, it's Callahan and Ryan Williams, who was signed in January and has an unusual story of his own, as the No. 3s.

At this point, Callahan's biggest challenge might just be absorbing coach Mike McCarthy's complex offense. Callahan got only a taste of it during last week's rookie orientation camp.

"I was texting a friend of mine who I played with in college and I was like, 'Imagine about 75 percent of Wesley's playbook being installed in two days,'" Callahan said.