If you scanned the sidelines of Saturday’s 45-0 victory by the Tennessee Volunteers, you might have seen a familiar face wearing the No. 52 jersey. Former Morristown West standout Matthew Salansky suited up with his teammates to enjoy their first victory of the season.
Salansky made the Vols as a walk-on after turning down offers to play at multiple other colleges. For him, there was no other uniform he wanted to wear on a Saturday afternoon.
“I’ve loved football my whole life,” Salansky said. “I’ve lived around it. If there was a way I could go to school and do it at the same time, I wanted to make that happen. I was always a Tennessee fan since I was about four years-old.”
Salansky was a standout linebacker at Morristown West and a three-year starter. Sometimes, he found himself in the running back rotation, but what he gave extra focus to his job on special teams. He was the long snapper for the Trojans’ kicking and punting squads, knowing that if he were to get a chance to make the Volunteers, it would be there.
“That was my key in,” Salansky said. “I thought that’s probably how I could make the team so I did it.”
And that’s exactly where Salansky has landed on the Vols roster, at long snapper. Though if head coach Jeremy Pruitt needs some help on defense, Salansky could do that too. He recorded 84 tackles, a sack and an interception for Morristown West as a senior. However the 5-11, 215-pound freshman can help, he’s willing to do it.
Salansky has dressed for the games against Brigham Young and Saturday’s trouncing of UT-Chattanooga. What he’ll remember most about the experience were the moments that before he’d only participated as a fan.
“It all started with the Vol Walk,” Salansky said. “That’s something I always went to when I was going to games (as a fan). That was something, to high five everybody on the way to the stadium. The locker room is such a nice place and I looked over and saw my name on the back of the jersey. It’s a moment I won’t forget. Running through the ‘T.’ It was an awesome experience.”
It was an experience borne of hard work and dedication. Once Salansky found out what it would take to walk on with the team, he dedicated himself to making it. A few weeks before classes started, he got the nod.
The first call he made was to his parents, Gary and Debbie Salansky.
“They were so excited for me,” Salansky said. “They were praying for me the whole time I went down there for the tryouts. When I got the news, they were so pumped. It’s still surreal, just knowing that I’m on the team at the University of Tennessee is pretty crazy.”
Salansky has yet to see the field, but he knows a moment like that could come any day. The last walk-on at Tennessee from Morristown West, Patrick Ashford, played special teams as well, holding kicks for two seasons. In 2014, Ashford tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass against Missouri. Salansky knows he has to be ready when his time comes.
“It’s a grind every day,” Salansky said. “You’re just competing to stay on the team. You work every day to beat out the next guy. You work on your craft so you can be ready when your number is called.”