Michael Palardy took his substitute-teaching job seriously at St. Thomas Aquinas High School a couple of years ago. He taught staples like math and chemistry and electives like theology and debate. He taught from textbooks and lessons plans.
But his best lesson to those students?
It was Palardy himself. It was his story, his persistence. It was his dedication to a dream, which will become obvious to any former student watching the game Monday night when their former substitute teacher punts for Carolina.
He’s the survivor who tried out for 28 teams before catching on. He’s the dreamer cut by the Oakland Raiders the day after an emergency appendectomy, cut by Ottawa due to Candians-to-Americans players ratio in the Canadian Football League, cut by Carolina five months before punting for them last November.
He’s the substitute teacher who ran to his car after the last class, got his gear and either hit the weight room or kicked on the football field until school teams needed to practice. Or he’d call up his one-time kicking coach, Tim Conrad, also a St. Thomas teacher, and ask to meet in the evening at Mullins Park in .
That’s the field Palardy first played football on with the eighth-grade Coral Springs Chargers. Now he was booming punts, one after another, to the point, “everyone would stop what they were doing and watch this guy train,” Conrad said. “Softball games. Soccer games. They’d stop to see him crush the ball.”
After punting, they weren’t done.
“With the sun going down, they’re ready to close the field. I’m covered with dirt and Mike would say, ‘Tim, you can’t leave. We’ve got to get the snap-and-holds down,’ ” Conrad said.
Conrad would simulate 100 snaps from center and Palardy would be the field-goal holder. Why? Because he knew if he made a team he’d hold for field goals and extra points, too.
“I always wanted to be ready,”Palardy said. “I didn’t want to be caught off guard or not be prepared to perform in front of coaches or scouts or whomever if they needed someone to [come in] the next morning at 10 o’clock.”
His reward for such persistence? Getting doors shut in his face for more than three years. But this became his dream after attending Conrad’s BIGfoot Kicking school as an eighth grader, after attending St. Thomas because their kickers often got college scholarships and after being told by recruiter Eddie Gran at a junior practice, “If you make a 60-yard field goal, you have a scholarship.”
He made the field goal.
He ended up at , where Gran went for a season until took over. Palardy punted and kicked field goals and extra points well enough to be named All-Southeastern Conference as a senior.
Then the real fun started. Undrafted, he signed with the for rookie minicamp, but was a Raider by training camp. He had the appendectomy before the first preseason game. Over the next two seasons he signed with St. Louis, Toronto, Ottawa, Carolina, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Atlanta.
That doesn’t even get into the tryouts. He went to a Dolphins workout for locals after his senior season. When teams faced a left-footed punter on Sunday, they’d fly in the left-footed Palardy on Thursday or Friday to punt to their return man (punts of left-footed kickers spin opposite of right-footed kickers).
“Trust me, there were times I was like, ‘Man, [I’m] leaving home to do this. I’ll be gone 24 hours — if that,’ ” Palardy said.
It helped that his fiancee, Lexie, worked in the medical field and could support them. It helped, too, that parents and friends told him to keep going. It helped that Matt Darr, who won the Dolphins job in 2015, punted behind Palardy for four years at Tennesee. It helped he won the job in Cleveland in 2016 – until the signed veteran Britt Colquitt the week of the opener.
But nothing helped enough.
“I just needed a break,” he said.
It came last November when Carolina punter suffered a hamstring injury. Palardy was living in Atlanta by then. He got the call Sunday evening and drove to Carolina that night. He punted in his first NFL game that Thursday.
He won the job before this season. Over the past three games, Palardy has led the NFL in net punting average (46.9 yards) and ranks ninth for the season (47.4).
And there’s the lesson from the substitute teacher every student needs to learn. Be ready. Keep trying. Rejection isn’t failure. Believe in yourself. Chase your dream. And, well, watch your TV set Monday night kids.
“It’s everything I dreamed it’d be,”Palardy said. “Maybe its even better.”
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