A week ago, Rick Lovato was working part time at his family’s sub shop in Lincroft, N.J., and training for an NFL opportunity that may or may not ever present itself again.
Then, his phone rang Monday morning. The Green Bay Packers, who recently worked out Lovato on Friday, were in need of a long-snapper after veteran Brett Goode tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Sunday’s game in Oakland.
The 6-foot-2, 249-pound rookie was told to catch a plane for Green Bay. This Sunday, he’ll play in his first NFL regular-season game when the Packers travel to Arizona. While Lovato is excited to finally get the call, he also has been ready for this moment for a while.
“I’ve been training for this and waiting for a moment like this for a long time now,” Lovato said. “I’m ready. I’m ready to go show everyone that I can do this and no one should know my name.”
His previous employer, Joyce’s Subs and Pizza, is run by his father, Rick Lovato Sr., and his uncle, Neil Givens. His job duties ranged from working the register, making breakfast sandwiches and pizzas. The restaurant’s signature item? “I’d say the Italian sub. The No. 15,” Lovato said.
Lovato appeared in 50 games for Old Dominion over the past four years, while working toward his major in business management. He signed with the Chicago Bears after going undrafted, but lost out on the Bears’ vacant long-snapping job to Thomas Gafford. He worked out for Miami a few days later, but nothing came of it.
For the past four months, he has split his time between the sub shop and a nearby gym. Having worked out for the Packers on Friday, Lovato made it a point to watch Sunday’s game between the Packers and Raiders. He watched Goode closely, but never noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Punter Tim Masthay had an inkling something might not be right with Goode, especially after the game. The next morning an MRI confirmed Goode tore his ACL and a replacement would be needed. It’s tough timing for Goode, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent in March.
“You wouldn’t have even noticed watching. He performed extremely well,” said Masthay of Goode. “I was a little concerned overnight, Sunday night, that we might find something like that out. I’m disappointed obviously for him and our team. Hopefully, he can get it all cleaned up, fixed up and be ready to go when he comes back.”
It’s not out of the ordinary for specialists to work odd jobs before landing NFL employment. Most have no money coming out of college. Goode worked in construction before the Packers brought him in during an emergency situation in 2008. Masthay was a tutor at Kentucky. Former Packers punter Ryan Flinn worked as a bartender.
Since arriving in Green Bay, Lovato has worked extensively with both Masthay and kicker Mason Crosby on Wednesday to gain some familiarity. Masthay admitted there’s a slight adjustment you make switching long-snappers, especially considering Goode is the only long-snapper he’s taken snaps from in six NFL seasons.
The crash course will continue for the remainder of the week, but Lovato maintains the stage isn’t too big for him. Long-snappers sometimes wait up to three or four years before getting a chance. For Lovato, it’s all about making the most out of the opportunity in front of him.
After speaking to a horde of reporters Wednesday, it’s Lovato’s goal to go unnoticed.
“I’ve played in preseason games. I don’t think it’s going to be much different than that,” Lovato said. “I was comfortable there when I was with Chicago in the offseason. It’s just a matter of doing what I can do and I’ve done this a million times. I just have to go out there and execute, and just make sure I know the schemes Arizona is running. I’m sure they’re going to try to bring some pressure on me as a rookie, so I have to be ready for everything.”
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