Notes: Matt Salerno plans to return for sixth year; Michael Mayer named Notre Dame MVP

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND – Matt Salerno’s 1-yard reception for his first career touchdown was one of the feel-good moments of Notre Dame’s Senior Day thrashing of Boston College.

Four weeks after that long-awaited end zone visit, the former walk-on wide receiver/punt returner has decided maybe it shouldn’t be his last.

The Valencia, Calif., product announced via social media on Friday evening that he would “run it back” for a sixth season with the Irish. A COVID-year waiver for those who played in 2020 made that possible.

All-America long snapper Michael Vinson recently announced he would return as a sixth-year super senior in 2023 as well. Reserve kicker Chris Salerno, Matt’s brother, is a sophomore walk-on for the Irish.

The elder Salerno, who has five catches for 62 yards this season, produced half of that yardage with an acrobatic grab as he fell backward in the season-opening loss at Ohio State.

“Matt is a guy that we have a ton of trust in,” offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said on Nov. 22. “He’s in there in critical moments. He’s in there with roles that are critically important. He’s tagged on stuff to make sure he’s in. He’s done a lot of the dirty work for us and been in critical spots and he’s worked extremely hard to deserve the opportunity to be out there playing.”

The normally sure-handed Salerno, Notre Dame’s primary punt returner in 2020, muffed a punt early in the snowy second half on Senior Day. Filling in for the injured Brandon Joseph, Salerno also had a 28-yard punt return that was a season-long for Notre Dame.

Salerno is a regular contributor on the kickoff return unit as well as a solid blocker on running plays and quick screens.

Last month he was named as Notre Dame's representative on the second annual Military Bowl 3M STEM Scholar-Athlete team. Salerno, who is pursuing his master's degree in computer science and engineering, graduated with a 3.718 grade-point average while majoring in aerospace engineering.

“Matt has good quick-area agility to get in and out of some of those cuts,” Rees said. “It was intentional to put that guy in that spot (against Boston College). What other moment could you have on Senior Night to score the first touchdown and share that?"

Smiling, Rees added: "I’m going to start the campaign now to get him back for a sixth year and see if we can keep him here for one more opportunity to play football.”

It worked.

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Michael Mayer, JD Bertrand headline team honorees

Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame’s newly minted consensus All-Americans, were among 11 players honored Friday night at the team awards dinner.

Mayer, the most productive tight end in program history, was named team MVP and offensive player of the year. Foskey, who had 11 sacks and two blocked punts, was voted defensive lineman of the year.

Linebacker JD Bertrand, Notre Dame’s defensive player of the year, led the team in tackles for a second straight season despite missing the equivalent of more than two full games due to targeting ejections and a groin injury.  

Sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie, whose blocked punt against Stanford triggered a run of five straight games with at least one blocked punt for the Irish, was special teams player of the year. Kollie earned 145 of his 203 overall snaps on special teams.

Captains Jarrett Patterson (offensive lineman), Bo Bauer (Iron Cross) and Avery Davis (Nick Pietrosante Award) were honored as were sixth-year offensive lineman Josh Lugg (Father Ted Man of the Year), linebacker Jack Kiser (Rockne Student-Athlete) and scout-team standouts Sam Assaf (offense) and Marty Auer (defense).

Receiver overview

Barring an unexpected return for Braden Lenzy, Salerno projects as the most experienced scholarship receiver for Notre Dame in 2023.

Also slotted in are current sophomores Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie, redshirt freshman Jayden Thomas, freshman Tobias Merriweather and a highly regarded quartet of projected early signees on Dec. 21: Texans Braylon James, Jaden Greathouse and Kaleb “KK” Smith as well as Rico Flores (Folsom, Calif.)

Virginia Tech transfer Kaleb Smith – not to be confused with his high school namesake – was due to visit Notre Dame this weekend ahead of the upcoming dead period that runs from Dec. 19 until Jan. 4. A former three-star recruit and Hokies walk-on, Smith has overcome two labrum surgeries (dating to a baseball injury as a high school junior) to post 74 catches for 1,143 yards and seven touchdowns over four seasons.

Jayden Bellamy picks Syracuse

Freshman cornerback Jayden Bellamy, who entered the transfer portal on Dec. 5, has found a new home at Syracuse.

Bellamy, a three-star recruit who teamed with Irish quarterback Steve Angeli at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, N.J., made the announcement via social media. Bellamy, slightly built at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, didn’t see game action this fall and was in concussion protocol in November.

The son of former Rutgers and NFL safety Jay Bellamy is one of six Notre Dame players to enter the transfer portal since early October.

Defensive tackle Jacob Lacey (Oklahoma) and wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. (Miami of Ohio) also found landing spots.

Tight end Cane Berrong, a four-star signee in 2021 from Hartwell, Ga., has reported offers from Western Michigan and Pittsburgh since entering his name in the transfer portal on Monday. Berrong suffered a season-ending ACL tear in October of his freshman year and played just 10 offensive snaps in his Irish career.

Berrong, who contributed 20 plays on kickoff and punt return units in 2021, saw the field briefly on offense at Virginia Tech as a freshman and again for five snaps against Boston College last month.

Quarterback Drew Pyne, who reportedly visited BYU, and defensive end Osita Ekwonu are the other former Irish players still in the portal.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.

No. 21 Notre Dame (8-4) vs. No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) 

What: 78th Annual TaxSlayer Gator Bowl 

When: Friday, Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST 

Where: TIAA Bank Field (67,164), Jacksonville, Fla. 

TV/Radio: ABC, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 

Line: Notre Dame opens as a 4.5 -point favorite  

Series: Notre Dame leads 3-1 

Last meeting: South Carolina won 36-32 in South Bend (1984).