Kevin Silva called it the smartest decision of his life. His father, Rick Silva, said it was truly a leap of faith.
When it appeared as if the COVID-19 pandemic would shut down high school football on Long Island this past fall, Silva’s father challenged his son to move to Texas and play his senior year for St. Thomas High School.
"My dad is a contractor and working on a long-term project in the Houston area and it didn’t look like we’d play in New York," Silva said. "He opened the door for me to play in Houston and at first, I wasn’t on board with the idea. And then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this is probably the only way I’ll play in my senior year. Let’s do this.’ "
Silva, who lives in Smithtown and started four games at linebacker for St. Anthony’s in his junior season, traveled westward. The 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker was coming off two meniscus surgeries in his sophomore year and was just starting to feel whole. With a short resume but a strong work ethic, Silva took his shot.
"There were going to be challenges," he said. "My mindset was right, and I was going in confident, but there was definitely some concern and nervousness because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. There’s so much hype about Texas being big-boy football and there were unknowns."
The kid from the East Coast enrolled at St. Thomas, an all-boys Catholic school in the heart of Houston, in June. His parents, Rick and Laura, came up with the school tuition of $16,000 and rented a townhouse in the Houston area.
Silva rewarded their faith in him with a star-caliber season. The middle linebacker led St. Thomas in total tackles and into the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs, where the Eagles dropped a 21-7 decision to Midland Christian.
Silva finished the playoff game with a team-leading 21 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. For his accomplishments, he was named first-team all-state in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools. He also earned the co-defensive player of the year award for St. Thomas.
His academics also were noteworthy as he posted a 4.0 grade-point average and made the Academic All-District 2 first team.
"We are so proud of him," said Rick Silva, who played football at Georgia Tech. "He went into a strange environment and focused on his goals and met them on the field and in class. I had no worries because I know his skill set and that he’s a smart player. When he met the school’s defensive coordinator, it only took them 10 minutes to get on the chalkboard."
St. Thomas head coach Rich McGuire said it didn’t take long to see that Silva would have an immediate impact on the Eagles’ defense.
"I didn’t know what to think when I first met him in June," said McGuire, in his fourth year at the school. "He got hooked up with our strength coach, Phil Penn, and really improved. You don’t really know what you have until you put on the pads. On the first day of linebacker drills, he knew his way around the field and it was pretty clear he could play. I knew we had a real good player."
McGuire said the Eagles had lost a key player at linebacker and that Silva’s transfer was timely — like a godsend.
"He’s a football junkie, watches a ton of film," McGuire said. "He filled a really big hole for us."
The transition was smooth for Silva. His toughness was tested right away in practice and he impressed the coaching staff.
"The kids accepted him right away," McGuire said. "He fit right in."
Silva credited his preparedness and foundation to St. Anthony’s head coach Joe Minucci, who also served as the Friars’ defensive coordinator.
"I learned so much in the St. Anthony’s program in three years," said Silva, who also played volleyball and basketball for the Friars. "It gave me a chance in Texas. Football is life out there and they play the game at a different speed. The plays develop much quicker, and if you’re not prepared, you don’t have a shot. Film study was so important."
Silva said the discipline of adhering to safety protocols allowed the season to proceed.
"There were strict mask requirements in and out of the facility," he said. "We wore gloves when we hit the weights. We had temperature checks every day. Some schools in Dallas were shut down and others had limited schedules throughout the state. There was crowd control, a limit on attendance, but it was still a great atmosphere. It was an incredible experience."
Silva’s next challenge is finding the right college after graduation.
"He’s been selective in his search for a school that has chemical engineering," McGuire said. "And we’re working on it. It’s tougher when you’re looking more in D-III football. But he’s absolutely going to play somewhere. He’s too good."
With the season in the rearview mirror, Silva boarded United Airlines flight 6014 bound for LaGuardia last week. He sat in first class after a first-class season and peered out the window and said goodbye to the state that gave him the opportunity to play his final year of high school football.
As the jet climbed toward the heavens, Silva embraced the memory of so many newfound friends, teammates, his girlfriend and the football experience of a lifetime.
"It was awesome,’’ he said. "I would do it again."