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Special-teams play earns walk-on Chris Salvi captaincy for Navy game

Cory Bernard | Thursday, November 17, 2011

Like many Notre Dame athletes, senior safety Chris Salvi acknowledges the academic rigors of the University and the importance of earning a degree. Make no mistake, though. Salvi came to South Bend to play football.

“The whole reasoning behind it was I just grew up watching Notre Dame football,” Salvi said. “I idolized the people playing it, so I thought I’d give it a try. The biggest motivation [to come to Notre Dame] was football, but obviously the academics here are the best.”

A transfer from Butler who walked on to the football team, Salvi does not fit the prototypical description of an Irish star. He has nonetheless made his presence felt this season, appearing in all 10 games and recording nine tackles on special teams. Though he lacks the physical attributes necessary for a scholarship, Salvi said he never made making the practice squad his ultimate goal. He always expected to play.

“My goal from the beginning was always to play special teams,” he said. “I knew that there would always be something to build on after my first year. That year I did scout team and all that stuff and then my second year I was playing special teams and this year even more so.”

As a full-time special teams player, Salvi has had time to pick up on the intricacies of his various positions. According to Salvi, the individual studying he puts in to improve his play is a luxury many other special teams contributors do not have.

“You don’t practice as much on special teams during the week because you focus so much on the other aspects of the game,” he said. “The info during that is a lot larger so you have to take every rep seriously in special teams to get the most out of it and improve every week. The other aspect of special teams that a lot of people overlook is watching film on the other teams.

“Because there’s such an emphasis on offense and defense, guys that do both usually worry about their offensive or defensive position more. You can take advantage when you are more of a special teamer to watch film and get to know the tendencies of the other teams.”

The work Salvi puts in on and off the field has produced some tangible results this season. In Notre Dame’s first victory of the season, Salvi made a key block on a kick return that took out two Michigan State players and helped spring freshman returner George Atkinson for a touchdown. Though he made a standout play, Salvi credits the praise he received after the game to others.

“A little bit part of it was luck,” he said. “The [television] announcer singled me out during the replay so people realized that I made the block. I could give myself credit and say it was just me, but there were a lot of guys that made that play and it just so happened mine stood out.”

Before Notre Dame’s contest against Navy, Salvi was again recognized for his efforts. Irish coach Brian Kelly named the walk-on a gameday captain against the Midshipmen. Though Salvi said he felt honored after being named captain, the lifelong Irish fan maintained his focus on improvement.

“[Being named captain] was something that was a pretty big accomplishment for me, but at the same time you don’t stop there,” Salvi said. “Being a captain, it’s different than any statistical things you can achieve. But regardless, you don’t stop at your goals.

“You keep going whether it’s being a better leader every day or making more tackles on kickoff. You’re always trying to better the team and yourself.”

Because of this desire to constantly improve, Salvi has been able to realize a lifelong dream of donning the blue and gold.

Although he likely won’t be collecting a paycheck for his athletic skills after graduation, he said his experience playing football at Notre Dame would continue to help him succeed.

“This is one of the largest stages on earth,” Salvi said. “College football — especially at Notre Dame — we’re always in the limelight. Whether it’s praise or criticism, people are always looking at us.

“Being part of such a large organization and being with a bunch of high profile people, it prepares you for anything you may face later on in your career or in life in general.”