Growing up in Ventnor, Joe Sarnese always dreamed of playing for the Philadelphia Eagles.
He’s going to get that chance in a few days.
Sarnese, a senior at Villanova University and a Holy Spirit High School graduate, accepted an invitation from the team to attend its rookie camp at the NovaCare Complex from Friday through Sunday.
“My dad (the late Joseph A. Sarnese) was a diehard Eagles fan,” Sarnese said Sunday in a phone interview. “And I always envisioned myself playing for them. If I could play for any NFL team, it would be the Eagles.”
Sarnese, who lives in Margate, will be among three local players attending rookie camps, joining St. Joseph High School graduates and Winslow Township residents Max Valles and Gordon Hill.
Valles, an outside linebacker at Virginia, was drafted in the sixth round by Oakland on Saturday. Hill, a safety from Sacred Heart University, signed with San Diego as a priority free agent later Saturday.
Sarnese, who also is a safety, will attend the Eagles’ camp on a tryout basis. Despite an outstanding career at Villanova, Sarnese was not selected in the three-day, seven-round NFL draft that ended Saturday.
He also was not among the 16 undrafted players the Eagles signed Saturday and Sunday as priority free agents to reach the preseason, 90-player roster limit.
If the Eagles choose to sign him after the rookie camp, they would have to release a player.
“I’ll take anything at this point,” Sarnese said. “All I want is an opportunity to show what I can do.”
Sarnese, who will graduate later this month with a degree in communications, nearly didn’t get that opportunity.
The 5-foot-11, 198-pounder enjoyed a solid senior season for the Wildcats, tying for second on the team with four interceptions and 78 tackles. He was a team captain and helped Villanova (11-3) reach the NCAA Division 1 FCS playoffs, a run that ended with a 34-31 quarterfinal loss to Sam Houston State.
But when it came time to perform at Villanova’s pro day on April 1, he was in no condition to showcase his talent.
“I had a pretty rough pro day,” Sarnese said. “I tweaked my hip working out earlier that week. Then I woke up the day before with a stomach virus and was vomiting all day, so I had nothing in my system. I had pretty bad numbers (in the 40-yard dash and other drills), and I was really worried.
"But I managed to do OK in the position drills. An Eagles scout evidently saw something in me and invited me to the Eagles pro day three weeks ago.”
Sarnese said he was among three defensive backs -- the other two were cornerbacks -- to attend the Eagles’ workout at the NovaCare Complex.
They ran the 40-yard dash -- no time was given -- and then went through a quick series of position drills.
“It was pretty hectic,” Sarnese said. “Everything was done at a very fast pace and didn’t last very long. You basically had eight minutes to show what you’ve got. I felt like I did pretty well, but I didn’t know for sure until I got a phone call from the Eagles (Sunday).”
Sarnese stands a chance of at least getting an invitation to attend the Eagles’ organized team activities (OTAs) in June.
Their second-round draft choice, Utah defensive back Eric Rowe, played safety for three years for the Utes but is expected to moved to cornerback. Sixth-round pick JaCorey Shepherd (Kansas), seventh-rounder Randall Evans (Kansas State) and free agent Denzel Rice (Coastal Carolina) are all also cornerbacks.
Malcolm Jenkins, Jerome Couplin, Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski, Ed Reynolds, Earl Wolff are back from last season.
“I’m willing to play for any team that will give me a shot,” Sarnese said. “But I want to play for the Eagles.”
Sarnese was a member of the Holy Spirit class of 2011. As a senior in the 2010 season, he starred at safety and wide receiver and led the Spartans to the state Non-Public III championship. He was The Press Male Athlete of the Fall. Sarnese scored the winning touchdown in a 34-27 semifinal win over Pope John XXIII (Sussex County) . He made a leaping grab over a defender for a 25-yard touchdown with 23 seconds left.
He led the team in tackles with 93 that season and was Spirit's top receiver with 21 catches for 316 yards and six touchdowns.
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