Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM SEPT. 17, 2022 17 standing of Rees' offense grew as he peppered Rees with questions. He felt he put forth a strong initial impression in the first 2020 spring practice. It turned out to be the only 2020 spring practice. COVID-19 stalled Salerno's momentum, but not his con- fidence. He returned in 2020 fall camp and kept on a linear path. "The first year or so was really just eyes wide open," Salerno said. "All these guys are so much bigger than me. What's going on? I don't know if I be- long here. "After a year or so playing on scout team and beating some guys that ac- tually started to contribute for us re- ally helps build confidence. Around my sophomore, junior year, that really flipped a switch for me." The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Salerno became the primary punt returner two games into the 2020 season, totaling 45 yards on 10 return attempts. He held a spot on the kick return unit last year and resumed the punt returner role for the Fiesta Bowl. He was awarded a schol- arship after the 2021 season and came back for a graduate year. Notre Dame's thin receiver numbers and a preseason ACL injury to graduate student Avery Davis opened the door for Salerno to find a bit role on offense, at least for the opener. He's one of seven healthy scholarship receivers. He's the unit's oldest player. There are players in the Irish receiv- ing corps with more speed, more wiggle, more athleticism and more size than him. But Notre Dame is also looking for reli- ability at a position short on sure things and availability at a spot hampered by injury. Salerno made a compelling case to the Irish's coaching staff he can be both. He wouldn't have played 8 snaps and seen 2 targets in a top-5 game otherwise. "A lways b e i n g rea l ly p re pa re d ," Salerno said. "I had no idea if I was go- ing to get zero snaps or 30 snaps in the game. So always knowing where I'm supposed to be, and when my number is called, be able to execute. "Then understand what the defense is doing, make good decisions and snap- second decisions." The penalty was a departure from that, and one he will have to prove was an anomaly. Maybe it sets him back in the rotation. Maybe it's a mistake the coaching staff easily forgives. Perhaps an in-season charge up the depth chart from freshman Tobias Merriweather or sophomore Deion Colzie affects his spot in the rotation. His season-long role isn't yet clear, but he won't sweat the uncertainty. A reminder of why he is at Notre Dame in the first place and that he is living out an old fantasy came after the Ohio State game when he saw a text from his grandfather. The two talked on the phone postgame, too. "He just said he's proud of me," Salerno said, "and all the hard work has paid off over these years." He's ready for wherever it takes him next. ✦

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