For the last five years, Joe Fortunato has traveled across the country to showcase his skills.
Each year, the 2012 Mainland Regional High School graduate participated as a long snapper in a special teams-only combine in Gilbert, Arizona.
The annual event, organized by longtime former NFL special teams coach and now trainer Gary Zauner, provides kickers, punters and long snappers a chance to be seen by professional coaches.
Fortunato called the camp, held earlier this month, a place “where dreams come true.”
His performance at the combine and a workout with the team in November led Fortunato to sign with the Green Bay Packers on Wednesday.
His agent, Brooks Henderson, told Fortunato the Packers wanted to sign him last weekend. Fortunato flew out to Green Bay earlier this week and spent three days touring their facility and Lambeau Field.
“It was really cool,” Fortunato said. “It is incredible. I can’t put it into words. This journey, there has been some ups but mostly downs. I am just so excited to finally get the chance. It seems like this time around, I am finally getting my chance to go out on the field and compete and try to prove myself and show what I can do.
“I couldn’t be more ready or couldn’t be more thankfully. … I’m lucky to even get the chance in the NFL. It’s really hard, as I’ve learned, and a lot of times a lot of luck comes into play.”
Fortunato was a walk-on at the University of Delaware, playing in 46 games for the Blue Hens. He handled punts all four seasons and was the snapper on field goals and extra-point attempts his final two seasons.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder participated in a pro-day camp with Philadelphia Eagles out of college, but that did not lead to a contract. In 2017, he went out to Arizona and was later signed by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent, but they cut him and the other long snapper that year because the team decided to go in a new direction.
The Linwood resident kept going to the annual camp for exposure, earning a workout with the Atlanta Falcons in 2018 and a three-day, rookie mini-camp with the New York Giants in 2019.
“I was hoping something better would happen, but it didn’t,” Fortunato said. “But that keeps me in it mentally going into another year, knowing I’m making small steps forward. Nothing big, but just a feeling that I’ve got to keep going with this.”
Fortunato again went to the annual camp in Arizona in 2020, about a month before the country shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was soon signed by the Dallas Cowboys. But his first contract since 2017 fell short after the league canceled the offseason and preseason and had to shorten rosters due to the pandemic. He was sent home after only a short time in Dallas.
“I thought it could finally be my breakthrough,” Fortunato said. “It beat me up because it took so long to sign another contract only to get sent home for something outside my control.
“Moving into this year, it’s like now or never for this thing. I have to do everything I can, or else I’m going to run out of time. Every year the window closes more and more since I’ve been in football, but luckily as a snapper you can continue to get better without actually playing the game and hope for some type of chance.”
Fortunato earned a workout with the Packers in November.
Packers special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton, who was in Indianapolis during Fortunato’s time on the roster, was one of the 29 special team coaches at the combine in Arizona earlier this month.
Drayton wanted to bring in competition, Fortunato said.
That essentially sealed the deal.
“Every year it seemed like another step closer to making this thing happen,” Fortunato said. “I always felt like I was supposed to be doing this, like I was on the right path. Every year something happened that kept me in this moving forward.
“Out of all places, Green Bay. I’ve also been a huge football fan. I don’t think there is anywhere else I’d rather be to have this opportunity.”
According to several websites that cover the Packers, Fortunato will compete with Hunter Bradley, the team’s long snapper from 2020. Fortunato said long snapping is “’you vs. you” and has to snap cleanly at camp. If it doesn’t work out in Green Bay, he is hopeful another opportunity will come.
Fortunato said his parents, Joe and Barbara, are the main reason he is where he is at right now.
“You just need the opportunity to go out on the field and prove yourself,” he said. “As long as you take care of business, anything can happen. … I’m very fortunate and blessed.”
Contact Patrick Mulranen: 609-272-7217