GREEN BAY, Wis. – A long snapper’s path to the NFL generally isn’t covered in red carpet. For Joe Fortunato, it was covered in sheetrock and an unbreakable pursuit of a dream.
When the Green Bay Packers needed a long snapper in 2008, they called Brett Goode, who was working on a construction site in Arkansas. In 2015, when Goode suffered a torn ACL, the Packers found Rick Lovato working at the family’s sub sandwich shop in New Jersey. In 2017, they signed Derek Hart, who had been an engineer for Harley-Davidson.
Even by those standards, Fortunato’s path to Green Bay is one of remarkable perseverance.
Fortunato snapped for Delaware from 2012 through 2015. He hasn’t snapped in a game since the Blue Hens’ victory over Elon on Nov. 21, 2015. Not only has he not snapped in a game for five seasons, he’s never competed in an NFL training camp.
“It’s pretty wild,” Fortunato said in a phone interview last week.
“Sometimes, I think maybe I’m a little crazy,” he said. “My dream my whole life was playing in the NFL. I was never the strongest, fastest, most athletic on the field – nowhere near that – but I always loved the game. I love the team, the locker room, being out there on gameday. I like to practice, too – obviously, because I’ve been practicing on my own for years. I always thought I could do this. I always believed in my heart that if I put my mind to this and I did everything I possibly could, eventually I’d get a chance at this thing.”
For Fortunato, his post-college career has been a series of doors that were closed but not quite slammed shut.
With Delaware not boasting any top NFL prospects in 2016, only a handful of scouts came to the school’s pro day. Shortly thereafter, he got to compete at a local pro day for the Philadelphia Eagles but wasn’t signed. About a year later, after competing in a specialists combine conducted by former NFL special teams coordinator Gary Zauner, Fortunato was signed by the Indianapolis Colts. About a month later, just after the 2017 draft, he and former Pro Bowl snapper Matt Overton were released.
“That was heartbreaking,” Fortunato said, but Overton encouraged him to keep going.
Fortunato’s phone remained silent to NFL calls for about 18 months. In Summer 2018, he got a workout with the Atlanta Falcons but wasn’t signed. In 2019, he was invited to rookie minicamp with the New York Giants but again wasn’t signed.
After competing again at Zauner’s specialists combine, he was signed by the Dallas Cowboys a few days after the 2020 draft.
“Then the country shut down because of corona,” Fortunato said, and the offseason program was eliminated. He arrived for the conditioning phase of training camp but, with practice rosters limited to 80 players, veteran L.P. Ladouceur entrenched as the snapper and the preseason canceled, he was released before the first practice.
So, for the fifth time, it was back to Zauner’s specialists camp, held this year on March 7-9 in Gilbert, Ariz.
“I gave it my best shot and I was pretty confident something had to give, something was going to happen,” Fortunato said.
The Packers called him on March 20. He had worked out for the Packers in November and their new special teams coordinator, Maurice Drayton, was on the Colts’ staff in 2017. With Green Bay wanting a challenger for disappointing former draft pick Hunter Bradley, the stars finally were aligned. He came to Green Bay and signed on March 24.
“I can’t even explain how fired up I was and how excited I am right now,” he said. “Just walking out on that field after I signed, it was incredible, man.”
For the past five years, Fortunato has dedicated his life to keeping his dream alive. Three or four days a week, he’d practice. “It’s hard when you’re snapping into a net every day by yourself,” he said. He carried drywall and sheetrock for his dad’s business, Fortune Gypsum.
“I’m 26 and I still live at home, which stinks,” he said, “but the only reason I can do this is because my parents support me and they believe in me and they see the dream just like I do and they see how bad I want it. I’m willing to sacrifice it all to make this happen.”
At long last, Fortunato has a chance – a real chance – to make a roster. During his introductory Zoom, Drayton said the backs of Bradley and punter JK Scott are “against the wall” after failing to make significant improvement during their three seasons with the team.
Fortunato is ready to compete. He’s fired countless thousands of balls into nets. He’s as prepared as possible to block, a part of the job that’s a “whole different animal” compared to the college game, in which snappers snap the ball and sprint downfield with no blocking requirements.
“It’s been a hell of a journey,” he said. “I didn’t think it would take this long but I’m hoping, finally, five years later, this will be my chance to get out there and compete because I’m ready to go. I’ve put my life into this these past five years, just knowing and feeling in my heart that I can do this. If I keep pushing, something’s got to give eventually. Where else would I rather be than Green Bay? It doesn’t get any better that. I’m so excited.”
Barring any other additions to the roster and assuming he performs well during any offseason practices, Fortunato could get a chance to snap in his first preseason game in August. And, who knows, if that goes well, maybe he’ll be on the field for Week 1. If the Packers kick off the season on Sept. 12, that will mark a span of 2,122 days since his final collegiate game.
It’s something he’s dreamed about “more times than I can count.”
“Every single day you imagine being out on that field, running out of the tunnel, being out there in the cold weather,” he continued. “Your mind wanders and you’re thinking about all the incredible possibilities. That type of stuff is what’s kept me going on, just dreaming about finally getting a chance to get on that field and knowing that I can do it. Once the opportunity comes, you’ve got to take advantage of it. I’m very, very fortunate to be in this position right now.”