Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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16 SEPT. 17, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL M att Salerno said he'd worry a b o u t fo o tba l l l a te r. He wanted to go to Notre Dame for Notre Dame. The school. The family history. The tradition. If the football team gave him a chance to walk on as a wide receiver, great. But he would happily go from Southern Cali- fornia to South Bend without it. S u re e n o u g h , h e p e rs i s te d a n d earned a preferred walk-on spot be- fore his freshman season in 2018. Dream achieved. The childhood vi- sions of wearing the gold helmet and blue jersey like his grandfather Frank Salerno briefly did in 1957 were no lon- ger dreams. They were real. "My family has been Notre Dame fans solely because of him," said Salerno, now a graduate student scholarship re- ceiver for the Irish. "From the day I was born, we were diehard Notre Dame fans. It was a huge role in me coming here." If just being on the roster was as far as it went, he would have been content. Turns out, Notre Dame has given him much more. A 21-10 loss to No. 2 Ohio State in the 2022 season opener was a memory-maker. Not all the memories are positive ones. But he's thrilled to be in a spot where he can make them in the first place. Salerno's 8 snaps in that game pro- duced his career highlight and lowlight. The former was a circus 31-yard re- ception where he turned over his back shoulder — away from Ohio State cor- nerback Denzel Burke — tipped a Ty- ler Buchner pass in the air twice and snatched it while on his back. "In that moment, nothing goes through your head," Salerno said. "It's like slow motion almost. I just remem- ber once the ball was tipped making sure the DB wasn't able to catch it, which is what helped me stay focused on it. "I was fortunate it stayed close enough to my body so I could complete the catch." Notre Dame scored its lone touch- down five plays later to take a 10-7 lead. The low point, meanwhile, was a drive-stalling offensive pass interfer- ence penalty in the fourth quarter with Notre Dame at Ohio State's 41-yard line trying to answer the Buckeyes' go- ahead touchdown. First-and-10 turned into first-and-25, and eventually, third- and-18. A 2-yard gain on a Buchner run prompted a punt. Notre Dame ran three plays the rest of the game. "I don't remember the exact details of it, because it was all so fast, but we both just got tangled up," Salerno said. "I thought it was a 50/50 call, but un- fortunately it didn't go my way. Just as a learning experience, next time I have to be aware of that, not leave any doubt or leave it in the referee's hand." How, exactly? "Just winning on the route more cleanly so [the defender] doesn't even have the opportunity," Salerno said. That's the mindset of someone who's in the thick of it and no longer a happy- to-be-here dreamer. Living the dream wasn't enough anymore when he real- ized he could make a move up the peck- ing order. Pushing onto the depth chart first be- came a serious thought in the spring 2020 semester, after his sophomore season. Salerno logged three snaps in his first two years but had a strong con- nection with newly named offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. His under- Salerno, a former walk-on who earned a bump to scholarship status this offsea- son, made an acrobatic 31-yard reception in the season opener against Ohio State. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER ON THE BIG STAGE Matt Salerno's 'lifelong dream' has become more than he envisioned "My family has been Notre Dame fans solely because of him. From the day I was born, we were diehard Notre Dame fans. It was a huge role in me coming here." SALERNO ON HIS GRANDFATHER, FRANK SALERNO, WHO PLAYED AT NOTRE DAME IN 1957

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