You could say that Chris Salvi was floating on cloud nine last Saturday.
Of course, when he stepped off that cloud, he was looking for somebody to hit.
That’s what the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder from Lake Forest, Ill., does when he’s not serving as game-day captain, as he did against Navy last weekend.
“You hear all the time, ‘He’ll run through a brick wall,’” said defensive backs coach Chuck Martin, Salvi’s position coach. “He’s one that would.
“If I said, ‘Hey, dude, there’s a brick wall. We’ve got to get it knocked down.’ Salvi would be like, ‘All right. Do I get to wear my helmet or no?’ He’s just that type of kid.”
Salvi emerged as a regular member of Notre Dame’s kick coverage units last fall when the Irish were short on skill-position athletes. An influx of freshmen threw Salvi down the depth chart this past August. He simply put his head down and started battling his way back up.
“He knew how it was,” Martin said. “He said, ‘Hey, you’ve got all these guys on scholarship. You’ve got to look at them.’ Most kids would be like, ‘I was starting last year and now I’m not even getting reps.’ But he understood the process.
“(Special teams) Coach (Mike) Elston did a good job of explaining that, figured out where he needed him, and then just kind of plugged him in.”
Salvi refused to be denied. He’s made six special teams tackles this season and appeared in his 17th career game last Saturday against Navy. The most recent dream fulfilled was serving as game-day captain.
“It meant a lot to me because this program is important to me, and being able to be the captain was incredible,” Salvi said. “One of the best parts about when they announced it was the support from the other players. Being able to see how much we care about one another and how much we support one another is awesome.”
Salvi has never asked for handouts, only an opportunity.
“As a walk-on, you have that mentality where you have to fight every day because if you mess up, they’ll take you out,” Salvi said. “So every day matters. The little things matter.
“I remember at the beginning of camp, I was at the bottom of the depth chart, and I had played some special teams last year. I looked at it, and I wasn’t disappointed, but I saw a challenge.
“One of my close friends, another walk-on, Nick Lezynski, he’s been a great help this year. He told me to keep my head up, fight through it, see it as a challenge and take every day as important as anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s one rep, you’ve got to do it right.”
Salvi, a transfer from Butler University in Indianapolis, always dreamed that he would one day play football and graduate from Notre Dame.
“Ever since I was a kid, I didn’t think it could be done any other way,” Salvi said. “Butler is a great place, no doubt about that. But like I’ve said before, Notre Dame was something I’ve always wanted and the challenge of it academically and in football is what drove me to be here.”
Salvi remembers throwing the football around in his back yard with his four brothers - Pat, Dave, Brian and Will - pretending to be a Notre Dame football player.
“When I was in high school, it was (Tom) Zbikowski,” Salvi recalled. “He was a Chicago area dude too, so I always looked up to him.”
After a year at Butler, he was accepted at Notre Dame. The honor of serving as game-day captain last week was the culmination of the dream.
“We were in the stadium during walk-through on Friday,” said Salvi when he was told he’d be a captain. “(Coach Kelly) announced it and I had some feeling of shock. But there was a lot of joy from the entire team. The cheering and support made me feel very comfortable about being a captain for the week.”
Kelly was happy to reward such a deserving player.
“He’s respected by his teammates,” Kelly said. “Any time one of their teammates is recognized for their work without a scholarship, it goes to morale, it goes to recognizing all those that are in the program that pull their weight. He certainly does that. I know our guys were excited. I know our coaches were too. It was good to see him get out there and lead our football team and be one of our game-day captains.”
Salvi’s success is one part hard work, one part dedication to his craft.
“Toughness and being willing to put your nose on the ball,” said Salvi when asked to list the keys to being a successful special teams player. “The other is you’ve got to watch film, just like offense and defense. Players have tendencies. The coaches with their plays have tendencies, just like any other aspect of the game.
“A lot of people overlook that, especially players because they’re focused on offense or defense. They overlook the smaller things on special teams. I’ve been able to take advantage because I take my time in watching special teams film.”
When Salvi walked to the center of the field with Harrison Smith for the coin toss, the full-time Irish captain acceded to his fellow senior.
“(Smith) asked me if I wanted to talk and I took advantage of that opportunity,” smiled Salvi. “He’s done it enough times. The away team always calls it. They won the toss so I gave the direction of where we were kicking. So that was fun.”
The fun continued for Salvi after the 56-14 victory when he led the team in a rendition of the Notre Dame Victory March in the locker room.
“The Fight Song is a cool part of Notre Dame football, and being able to sing that in front of all the guys was fun,” Salvi said.
Good things come to those who wait...and do things the right way?and don’t ask for special privileges.
“He’s never asked for anything,” Martin said. “He’s your stereotypical walk-on in that he loves Notre Dame. That’s why he transferred here. He’s a fierce competitor, and he’d do anything for this team. If you told him to be a wideout, he’d be a wideout. If you told him to unload the bus, he’d unload the bus.
“We have a lot of guys with ability, but not the want-to that he has because it takes courage. There are a lot of high-speed collisions and certain people don’t want that. He does. We’d like to take some credit, but not for Salvi. He’s just an awesome kid, and awesome person from an awesome family.”
Salvi is living the dream with his family, including younger brother Will, who is a junior at Notre Dame, Brian, a second year law student at Notre Dame, and Pat and Dave, who work for Pat Sr.’s law firm in Chicago.
“I didn’t think when I started this journey to play Notre Dame football that I’d be a team captain for a game,” Salvi admitted.