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Navy gives Keenan Reynolds, Joe Cardona permission to play in NFL

Reynolds was drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round and is trying to make the team as wide receiver and/or returner. Cardona served as the Patriots' long snapper last season.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When the Baltimore Ravens took former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the only thing they knew is that they were adding one of the most productive collegiate players in NCAA history. Reynolds finished his career with a Division I record 88 total touchdowns and set the all-time rushing yards mark for quarterbacks (4,559).

What they didn't know is when Reynolds would actually be able to contribute and showcase his talents on the field.

That answer became clear on Friday when Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told The Dan Patrick Show that Reynolds has the go-ahead to realize his dream of playing in the NFL while also honoring his military commitment. He also confirmed that New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona would be able to play in 2016, which was initially in doubt.

Cardona was a 2015 Navy graduate who fulfilled his service obligations by working once a week at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., and spent evenings on the job for the Navy.

It's not a surprising reveal by Mabus, who said last week that he was sure something could be worked out.

"I'm confident that we can work something out for Keenan to do both, to serve his country and to play professional football," Mabus told Patrick earlier in May.

In exchange for a free undergraduate education, graduates of the Naval Academy are required to serve a five-year term in the military and report for active duty directly after receiving their degrees. That would seem to be a roadblock for Reynolds' future in professional football. However, there are cases where the Navy will grant individuals waivers or make special accommodations.

Mabus indicated that there is a "process" that his staff has to go through before he can give the final approval, and the paperwork hasn't reached his desk yet. Still, he sounded optimistic that an agreement would be in place soon.

"There are a lot of paths to both play and to serve," he said.

Mabus expressed high praise for Reynolds and explained why it is in the interest of the Navy to allow individuals like him to pursue both career and duty at the same time.

"When we have guys coming out of the Naval Academy who go on and play professional sports, or go on and do other things that are high profile, it gives us a chance to show who we are and show the type of people that we attract and recruit," Mabus noted.

"I can't think of a better ambassador for the United States Navy or for the United States military than Keenan Reynolds."

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was hopeful after the draft that Reynolds would be able to join the team this summer.

"Whatever they do, we'll abide by and respect," Harbaugh told reporters earlier this week. "We understand how that works. He's just a fine young man."

Reynolds, a triple-option quarterback at the Naval Academy, is looking to make the transition to wide receiver and returner with Baltimore.