Salvi sud­denly in high de­mand

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY MARK LAZERUS mlazerus@sun­

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There were times when Chris Salvi won­dered if he’d ever get to this point. If he’d ever be any­thing more than an anony­mous walk-on, a glo­ri­fied prac­tice player — a spe­cial-teamer, at best.

Just a lit­tle more than a year ago, Salvi — af­ter trans­fer­ring from But­ler and bust­ing his hump for two years to earn a role on spe­cial teams — found him­self buried on the depth chart en­ter­ing his ju­nior year be­cause of an in­jury.

‘‘I was like, ‘Oh, man, do I de­serve this?’ ’’ the Lake For­est na­tive and Carmel grad said. ‘‘But noth­ing’s de­served. I kept my head up and did well and earned my spot back.’’

That’s not all he earned. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly gave the hard-work­ing, well-re­spected Salvi a schol­ar­ship dur­ing win­ter work­outs. And now, with the Ir­ish sec­ondary thinned by in­juries and lost re­cruits, Salvi is in po­si­tion to see time at safety, too, as Notre Dame hosts Miami at Sol­dier Field on Satur­day.

‘‘It’s good to be able to step on the field and con­trib­ute to the team in this type of way,’’ Salvi said. ‘‘Great peo­ple have been able to play in that sta­dium, on that field. I’m glad I’m able to be a part of that.’’

Grow­ing up in a Notre Dame fam­ily, Salvi al­ways wanted to play for the Ir­ish. But he had to set­tle for But­ler, an FCS school. As a fresh­man, he played in all 11 games for the Bull­dogs, mak­ing four tack­les. But he fared well aca­dem­i­cally and de­cided to give Notre Dame a shot. He trans­ferred first, then even­tu­ally got in touch with di­rec­tor of football per­son­nel Tim McDon­ald — no easy task for a no­body like Salvi. In­trigued by the kid’s col­le­giate ex­pe­ri­ence, the Ir­ish coach­ing staff gave Salvi a chance.

Af­ter a work­out, a try­out, and an ag­o­niz­ing week of wait­ing, Salvi was told he had made the team. Then came the hard part. ‘‘It’s a long road as a walk-on,’’ said Salvi, whose younger brother Will walked on as a cor­ner­back this past spring.

An­other walk-on, Or­land Park’s Mike Anello, took Chris Salvi un­der his wing as a fifth-year se­nior. He taught Salvi to not get dis­cour­aged by the re­al­i­ties of the depth chart. Af­ter sit­ting his trans­fer year, Salvi played in nine games as a spe­cial-teamer. As a ju­nior last year, he played in all 13 games and was named a cap­tain for the Navy game. His knack for mak­ing big tack­les on spe­cial teams earned him his spot, earned him a schol­ar­ship, and even­tu­ally earned him a chance to play safety, too.

The ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­ity has meant ex­tra time in the film room and ex­tra work af­ter prac­tice. But that’s fine with Salvi, whose en­tire im­prob­a­ble Notre Dame ca­reer has been built on hard work.

‘‘It’s not given to you; no mat­ter if you’re a walk-on or a schol­ar­ship player, you’ve got to earn your way onto the field,’’ Salvi said. ‘‘And with hard work, I’ve been able to put my­self in a good role.’’

Notre Dame line­backer Manti Te’o mod­els the spe­cial uni­form the Ir­ish will wear for Satur­day’s game against Miami at Sol­dier Field. | JOE RAY­MOND~AP

Chris Salvi

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