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Walk-on Chris Salvi suddenly in high demand for Notre Dame

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o models special uniform Irish will wear for Saturday’s game against Miami Soldier Field. | Joe

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

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Updated: November 7, 2012 6:10AM

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.’’

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