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For Salvi clan, it's all about family
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist

Carmel Catholic football player Chris Salvi stands outside the doorway of the gym named after his father.


Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Chris Salvi has been a key to Carmel's extended playoff run.


Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/9/2007 12:18 AM

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What a gem that Grandma Salvi is.

Every year, she ponders the perfect Christmas gift for each one of her grandchildren. Then, she sets out to find them.

All 40 of them.

That's 40 gifts for … yep, 40 grandchildren.

"I don't know how she does it," said Chris Salvi, one of those grandchildren. "She's an amazing woman."

Marita Salvi, 75, is the matriarch of one of Lake County's largest families, and also one of its most prominent.

You'll find Salvis all over the northern suburbs as lawyers, doctors, politicians, even a radio talk show host in Al Salvi, one of Marita's five sons.

You'll also find them as students at Carmel Catholic High School. Marita and her late husband, Albert Sr., both devout Catholics, had nine children and all nine graduated from Carmel.

Of their 40 grandchildren, three have already graduated from Carmel and seven are in school there right now -- with many, many more to come.

Chris Salvi, a senior at Carmel, is reminded about his family's strong connection to the school every time he passes by the main gym. It has his father's name on it, after all.

Patrick Salvi, a 1971 Carmel graduate, a prominent malpractice lawyer in Waukegan and the eldest child of Marita and Albert Sr., donated generously when his alma mater constructed a brand new gymnasium about 10 years ago. Carmel thanked him by stretching his name across the entrances.

"Kids at school will kind of joke about that," said Chris Salvi, the fourth of Patrick and Lindy Salvi's five sons. His three older brothers, Patrick, David and Brian, have already graduated from Carmel and his younger brother Will is a junior at Carmel.

"But I don't mind it," Salvi said. "I kind of like being part of (the family tradition)."

In fact, Chris Salvi seems to be all about traditions. He's also made himself a part -- a vital part, no less -- of another strong tradition at Carmel.

A winning football team.

Salvi is a two-year starter for the 9-2 Corsairs, who will take on De La Salle Saturday night in the Class 7A quarterfinals. A cornerback turned safety, he's become a focal point of the defense with his textbook tackling and hard hits.

He ranks second on the team with 93 tackles. He also has 4 interceptions, a sack and a blocked punt against Notre Dame that he recovered himself and ran in for a touchdown.

"Last year, Chris had a good year, but this year he's had a breakout year," Carmel coach Andy Bitto said. "Part of it has to do with the fact that he switched from cornerback to safety and safety seems to suit him a lot better. He's great against the run and he's the kind of player who really loves to hit people.

"But the other part of it is that Chris has worked so darn hard to improve himself and establish himself on this team. He was in the weight room so much over the summer that I had to practically kick him out. I think I'll be able to use him as an example for many years about what you need to do to really get ahead. This is a kid who is just extremely motivated to do his best."

Salvi says that his passion for football -- the sport he grew up playing in the backyard with his brothers -- motivates him to work hard on the field, to push himself, to strive for excellence.

But his drive comes from other sources as well.

Salvi hates it that some people assume he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, just because he comes from an affluent family. Proving that he's not just coasting on the Salvi name drives him in just about everything he does.

"I don't like hearing that I get things given to me," said Salvi, who does chores -- like taking out the trash and cleaning his room -- like most teenagers. "It's not true. My mom and dad are both hard workers and they've taught us that the way to get what you want is by working hard."

Salvi says he works hardest of all in the classroom.

Perhaps the biggest source of motivation in his life is his constant battle with dyslexia. He was diagnosed with it in the first grade.

Back then, he was hampered by the typical side effects of dyslexia, flip-flopping words, writing letters backwards. Now, Salvi says that his dyslexia can be an issue in the way he learns.

"I learn differently from other people," Salvi said. "I am very much a visual learner, so if a teacher is just talking to the class about something, I have a hard time with that. I need to see things. It's been a constant struggle for me in school."

Salvi says that the expertise of tutors has helped.

So has his own persistence.

"Chris would be at tutoring at 6:30 in the morning, learning how to study and work through all these various issues," Salvi's mother Lindy said. "He has really had to work hard at school and his grades. I think he's learned much of his work ethic because of his dyslexia and he's just applied that to football."

Salvi isn't done working yet. He'd love to take his drive and passion for the game to college. He gets regular calls from coaches at all levels, but is hearing most often from Augustana, Dayton and Lehigh.

"I just love football so much," Salvi said. "I love the physical aspect of football, I just love playing the game. I've been playing since the fourth grade."

Every year, one of Salvi's biggest games falls on Thanksgiving.

"We get the whole family together, all the aunts and uncles and cousins and everyone and all the older guys are out there playing football," Salvi said. "It's some really competitive football. But it's fun."

And it's tradition.