Two weeks ago, Buddy Green received a text from one of his former players.
It was Paul Quessenberry, telling Green he was about to fly across the country for a free-agent tryout with the New England Patriots.
Green, who retired in 2015 after 13 years as defensive coordinator at Navy, had received a few similar messages from other players in the past, but this time was different: Quessenberry was getting a look after spending five years out of football, instead serving in the military during that time.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’” Green said. “‘This is awesome.’”
Hours later, Green received another text. It was a photo Quessenberry, a 28-year-old California native, standing in front of a Gillette Stadium locker with his name on it. The next day, the Patriots announced they signed Quessenberry to their 80-man roster.
“To get a tryout was amazing, and to get signed, I was speechless when I heard that,” said Ken Niumatalolo, Navy’s head football coach. “It’s hard enough if you just graduate to get into the league.”
Quessenberry has participated in training camp practices, learning the ropes with hopes of proving he’s worthy of keeping around. Although he played defensive end in college, the Patriots have slotted him in at fullback and tight end.
“He’s got some skills that may fit into guys that have been similar to him that have played that position,” coach Bill Belichick said shortly after Quessenberry was signed. “It’s too early to project anything. We’ll just take a look at it here and see how it’s coming.”
With fullback Jakob Johnson ahead of him on the depth chart, Quessenberry is considered a longshot to make New England’s 53-man roster. Even if he finds himself on the outs, however, he could remain in the league as a member of the practice squad. The deadline for teams to trim their rosters to 53 players is Saturday at 4 p.m.
“Who knows if he makes the team, but I don’t count that kid out,” said Niumatalolo.
There’s a good reason why.
After graduating from the Naval Academy in May 2015, Quessenberry wanted to go pro. He had established himself as one of Navy’s top pass rushers, but there was little interest from NFL teams. He ended up landing a tryout with the Houston Texans, briefly sharing a locker room with his older brother, David.
When the Texans didn’t offer him a deal, Quessenberry decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He attended The Basic School in Quantico, Va. and received his military occupational specialty as an infantry officer. After completing his training, he spent about two-and-a-half years with a battalion at Camp Pendleton in California. Most recently, he served as the deputy director of the 1st Marine Division, Division Schools.
“Somewhere along that journey — I don’t really have a specific moment in time — I decided to pursue football again,” Quessenberry said. “My love and passion for the game was burning hot as ever.”
Whenever he had some free time outside of his Marine Corps responsibilities, Quessenberry turned his focus to getting back into “football shape.” He relied on his brothers – David, who now plays for the Tennessee Titans, and Scott, a guard for the Los Angeles Chargers. He’d ask for feedback on things like his workouts in the weight room.
“When I told them I was thinking about coming and giving it another go, they backed me 100 percent,” Quessenberry said. “They helped me a lot along the way, so I wouldn’t be here without my brothers.”
Quessenberry initially planned on participating in San Diego State’s Pro Day for exposure, but the session was canceled due to the coronavirus. Knowing he still had to get his name out there, Quessenberry created a workout video and sent it to Niumatalolo and Green. Word ended up getting to the Patriots, who flew him in for a tryout.
“It’s a great story,” Green said.
Since arriving in Foxborough, Quessenberry has dialed in on learning the playbook in order to give himself a chance of contributing. He spends most of his time with Johnson, whom he calls “the best blueprint of a teammate you can ask for.”
“He’s never going to hesitate to help me out, even if it’s late at night,” Quessenberry said. “I’ll text him like ‘Hey, Jaka, I got a question on this play, you busy?’ Every time, he’s like, ‘What you got man? Let me know.’ Having his support in this has been huge for my development.”
Long-snapper Joe Cardona has also been both a resource and a friend. The two were teammates at Navy.
“I think Paul is groomed for this opportunity, spending five years in the Marine Corps,” Cardona said. “Especially in the Marine Corps infantry. The guy is every bit a grunt. He comes out, and comes and works as hard as he can. There is nobody tougher than Paul Quessenberry.”
The rest of the locker room has been equally as welcoming.
“There’s no weird situation I’ve run into where guys are looking at me, like, ‘Hey, this guy hasn’t played football in five years. Should we welcome [him] in as one of us?’” Quessenberry said. “There was never anything of that sort. Rather, people are kind of, I would say, even more open to hearing me out and listening to what the heck I’ve been up to the last five years trying to make some sense of it.”
No matter how things shape out, Quessenberry expressed gratitude just to have the chance.
“To get the opportunity with the New England Patriots, it’s truly an honor and I’m very fortunate to be here,” he said.
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.