Catch Up with the Jets Legend from Pittsburgh Jim Gehman
Don Silvestri took a scenic route from the University of Pittsburgh to play for the Jets.
A member of Seattle's practice squad in 1993, and Buffalo's practice squad the following year, he traveled overseas in 1995 to be a kicker for the World League's London Monarchs.
"I had a really good season over there and that's when the Jets contacted me along with a couple other teams. The Jets made the most sense at the time," Silvestri said. "I was excited. Especially being someone who was raised in New York.
"I was born in Pittsburgh and the Steelers were rolling at the time of my getting into football, so I was a Steelers fan even though my entire family were Jets fans and we would go to Jets games.
"There was just something about New York, a team with such great tradition. I always loved the stories of the Jets. I was big fan of the Sack Exchange and Joe Willie (Namath), another Pennsylvania guy. So all of those things, I always enjoyed that and, to me, they were a bigtime team."
In 1995, the Jets were a "bigtime team" who experimented with having two kickers on their roster. Silvestri would handle the kickoffs, and Nick Lowery, who was in his 17th season in the NFL, would take care of the field goal attempts.
"To start as a kickoff specialist was known (before signing with the Jets). They wanted somebody who could hit touchbacks every time," Silvestri said. "It was an opportunity to get my foot in the door, a great opportunity to not only get a chance to sign with a team, but learn from one of the greatest kickers of all time."
While Silvestri was paying his dues as a rookie, Lowery, a two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, practically owned the bank.
"You think when you come in at the same position, you're usually competing against that person. Especially as a kicker where they typically only keep one. And I think, initially, there was a feeling of threat," Silvestri said. "But then it quickly became where we were helping each other. I was helping prolong his career, and he was helping me kind of get some experience and teaching me his ways. I just absorbed the advice.
"We played a preseason game, and I had a couple kickoffs that were touchbacks. There was a 10-yard penalty on a touchdown, so we had to kick from the 20-yard line. Back then we kicked from the 30. And the adrenaline that I had going, I ended up kicking a touchback from there and I knew as soon as I hit that ball, that was the kick that I made the team with.
"It's a shame (the kickoffs today are from the 35) because I used to love the view and the perspective when you're behind these guys running full speed. When you see how a play develops from the field perspective, to me, it was one of the most exciting viewpoints and part of the game."
Leading the AFC with 14 touchbacks during his first year in New York, Silvestri was with the Jets for two seasons. He followed that by playing in the Arena Football League for the Albany Firebirds and Florida Bobcats.
What makes him most proud of his gridiron career?
"I think it was the determination because I probably tried out for 20 of the NFL teams. Never giving up was always in the back of my head," Silvestri said. "It helped me through life and moving on to the corporate world. And wanting to always give people that encouragement to never give up on a dream or a goal. It's just been something that stuck with me."
The president of Debt.com, which is comprised of journalists, financial experts, and certified credit counselors who offer consumer education, Silvestri and his wife, Alissa, make their home in Coral Springs, Florida, with their sons: Alex, Jax, and Kade.
In January, the Pitt Varsity Letter Club named Silvestri as a 2021 Awardee of Distinction. It honors lettermen who have distinguished themselves in their profession or community.
It is well deserved.
"One thing that I think the NFL really gave me was an opportunity to give back. When I came down to Florida, I immediately went to Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Florida," Silvestri said. "The Boys & Girls Clubs was something that I just saw as an opportunity to help these kids that needed a little bit of extra guidance. They needed somebody to show them that there's opportunities out there. And for me, it was always wanting to help the underprivileged.
"It sort of guided me in my career, too. When I'm volunteering and doing stuff for charity, it is all part of that same thing. To try to help people sort of have a game plan for life and encourage them never to give up. If you have the right plan, you can overcome things. And my wife and I have always been involved in the foster community. We adopted our son who's five right now, out of foster care."
Another way that Silvestri is giving back is as a founding member of Parkland Cares. It was founded shortly after a 19-year-old former student entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018 with a semi-automatic gun and killed 17 people, injuring 17 others.
"The tragedy that happened at Stoneman Douglas is like a mile from my house," Silvestri said. "To this day, we've raised more than three-quarters of a million dollars that we've given back to the community to help with offsetting the cost of mental health and a suicide prevention hotline.
"To me, it all kind of falls under the same thought process of giving back to the community where you live and doing things for the right reasons. To help provide some guidance. It was always something that to me, in my heart, was part of my purpose. It's one of the greatest satisfactions, that you can help other people without expecting something in return."