PLANTATION, Fla. — Speaking on stage — on national television — at American Heritage’s National Signing Day ceremony in Plantation wasn’t the plan for Nesta Silvera. When the 4-star defensive tackle informed ESPN producers he’d be sticking by his pledge to Miami, the network informed him he wouldn’t get to sign his National Letter of Intent on ESPNU. It’s just the policy, he was told. ESPN doesn’t want to set a precedent of televising drama-free signings.
Even with a Chucky doll in hand and, unknowingly, a catchy quip loaded up in the bottom of his throat, Silvera didn’t enter Feb. 7 in search of a viral moment — he just wanted to get on TV at all.
“They don’t want to start a trend or something like that,” Silvera told DieHards, “so I was like, ‘[forget] it. I don’t need to be on ESPN.'”
He signed his Letter of Intent before the cameras rolled and televised three teammates signing with SEC schools. The camera panned back his way sort of on a whim to let Silvera discuss his decision not to flip to Florida. The now-famous words just poured out naturally.
— Gerry Hamilton (@HamiltonESPN) February 7, 2018
“Why not make the crib great?” he asked with the “Child’s Play” replica prop sitting on his lap. Silvera didn’t think much of what he said. He didn’t shout it to the rafters or coin a catchphrase with a knowing wink. Silvera just talked the way he always does: quick on his feet and ready to make sure everyone around him is listening closely.
“Coming with the Chucky doll on stage, that was just Jade,” said Roxan Nugent, Silvera’s mother, referring to her son by his middle name. “Jade will make you sit there and go, ‘OK, what is this kid up to?’ But he’s not doing it for attention. That’s just his personality. Like when he said, ‘Make the crib great,’ Jade wasn’t doing it for it to go viral. He said it from his heart.”
The saying became a thing anyway, and there may be no better person to deliver the message than Silvera, a 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive lineman, who talks a big game and more than backs it up. If there’s a checklist to making the crib great, Silvera fills every box.
Step 1: Play with an edge
Liberty High School made the a long trip from Henderson, Nev., to take on American Heritage in Week 3 of the 2017 season. Liberty’s offense features a triple-I formation.
This, of course, meant a lot was about to fall on Silvera’s plate. American Heritage boasted a historically great high school secondary, which meant one logical path to springing an upset could be pounding the ball in the middle of the field.
Liberty couldn’t manage anything and Silvera knew it right away.
“He was telling the center, ‘I dare you to snap it,'” American Heritage strength and conditioning coach Mike Smith told DieHards. “He was on the field telling them, ‘I dare you to run that play, to snap the football and run it down our throat.'”
This was always the sort of player Silvera has been. He began his high school career at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., where he became an early fixture on the offensive line. Penalties, however, piled up for the young lineman, so Cypress Bay decided his attitude would be a better fit on defense.
Everyone at American Heritage saw the same thing when Silvera transferred before his sophomore year. His size and athleticism — paired with the mean streak scouts always rave about — made him an ideal fit at defensive tackle. There was a need at left guard, though, and Silvera didn’t want to sit on the bench.
As soon as Silvera’s sophomore season wrapped up, American Heritage’s coaches shifted the lineman to defense. Kentucky, South Florida and Florida Atlantic offered Silvera before he suited up on defense for American Heritage.
American Heritage had a hunch it had something special. Plenty of linemen are as big as Silvera. Some can even pair size with Silvera’s level of athleticism. Finding size, athleticism and a personality like Silvera’s is rare, though. Together, it makes for a can’t-miss prospect.
“To me, Jade’s one of those old-school Miami Hurricanes who just — excuse my language — don’t take s–t from anybody,” Smith said. “He’s got that chip on his shoulder and that attitude about him that just kind of reminds of the ’80s, early-’90s Hurricanes.
Step 2: Be confident — maybe even cocky
Silvera’s first days with American Heritage were a bit of a struggle. He transferred in July before his sophomore year, when American Heritage was already in the throes of its offseason conditioning program. Smith asked him to run somewhere between 10-15 100-yard dashes his first day, then put him through change-of-direction work Day 2.
Still, Silvera wasn’t afraid to mouth off at the coaches or other players. It didn’t matter that he was the new kid joining a perennial state title contender from a significantly less-accomplished Broward County program. Nugent raised Silvera to be outspoken and it shows.
“I wasn’t always the best, but the attitude has always been there. I’ve always told everybody, I know that I’m better than you. I’m going to be the best,” Silvera said. “Everybody would say, ‘You’re not doing this. You’re not doing that. You don’t have offers.’ I just always knew it was going to come, so I’ve always had that alpha mentality or cocky mentality, some would say.”
It took some time for everyone to notice Silvera, though, especially since he started out of position. It’s hard to imagine Silvera ever shaken now, but that was the case the first time he suited up for American Heritage.
American Heritage lined up a high-profile preseason game in 2015 at Bradenton, Fla., IMG Academy. No one knew about Silvera yet — his offer list was almost nonexistent and he was mostly just a cog in American Heritage’s offensive line.
American Heritage runs through three warm-ups before every game. When it came out of its locker room for the second, a trio of All-American Ascenders greeted them. Cornerback Savion Smith, and defensive ends Malik Barrow and Rashaun Smith barked at American Heritage as it took the field.
“I was [really nervous],” Silvera said.
By the end of the night, American Heritage had scored maybe the biggest high school upset of the year by taking down IMG, something no one has been able to do since.
Silvera finally made the full-time move to defensive tackle for his junior season. Offers steadily began to trickle in with an avalanche arriving last February — much later than Silvera had hoped. He went into his junior season knowing a breakthrough was on horizon.
American Heritage needed to replace Brian Burns heading into 2016. The 4-star weakside defensive end graduated and headed to Florida State, leaving a void in the front seven. American Heritage always had one jersey tradition — No. 1 was a coveted jersey given out by the coaches. Burns’ No. 99 became coveted, too, and he was ready to hand it to Andrew Chatfield, a 4-star weakside defensive end now at Florida.
The day of spring photos, Burns prepared to hand the jersey to Chatfield, but Silvera had other plans. He pestered and pestered Burns until the defensive lineman finally relented.
Silvera won’t be able to wear No. 99 with the Hurricanes — defensive lineman Joe Jackson occupies it for now. Instead, he’ll don No. 1.
“Because I’m the chosen one,” Silvera said.
Step 3: Speak your mind
Silvera wasn’t supposed to be the main attraction at American Heritage’ Signing Day event, but he did all he could to grab attention. First, the senior walked into American Heritage’s auditorium clutching a Chucky doll, which many took as an homage to Dante Folwer Jr. and a hint he’d sign with the Gators. Then, Silvera, who had been committed to Miami for nearly a year, sat down next to three uncommitted teammates, and put both Hurricanes and Florida hats in front of him.
Silvera, no one will deny, has a penchant for drama. After waking up Nugent at the crack of dawn to tell her his mind was made, then working up a mini frenzy, Silvera ultimately signed with the hometown team.
Silvera wasn’t done quite yet, though. His signing didn’t make it on TV, but after Andrew Chatfield signed with the Gators, Tyson Campbell inked with Georgia and Patrick Surtain Jr. locked in with Alabama, Silvera got one final chance to shine.
What was it about Miami? the ESPN anchor on the other end of Silvera’s headset asked.
“Miami’s home. It’s the crib,” Silvera said. “What I could do here—I could go to Tuscaloosa [Ala.], I could go to Gainesville [Fla.], I could go to Tallahassee [Fla.] and make those schools great, but why not make the crib great?”
— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) February 7, 2018
A rallying cry was born. The Hurricanes announced Silvera’s signing by declaring it “time to make the crib great.” Younger prospects stating their own desire to “make the crib great” have become commonplace in the Miami recruiting world.
T-shirts even started to pop up, spawning another little opening for Silvera to have his voice heard. When a fan tweeted to Silvera about his decision to buy a shirt, the elite prospect took a shot at the NCAA.
I ain’t seeing a dime from it🤷🏾♂️ https://t.co/WNocpVTGSy
— Nesta (Jade) Silvera (@NJS_ERA) February 26, 2018
“I was kind of surprised when they made the T-shirts … It is what it is,” Silvera said. “Let’s be real, like everybody can make a dollar off my name except me.”
This is maybe the most important step to making the crib great again. The Hurricanes could win 10 games again every season. They could put players into the first round every other year. They could even play in a College Football Playoff New Year’s Six bowl game every so often.
Still, Miami wouldn’t be Miami without the personalities. Before the Hurricanes were back in College Football Playoff contention, they were in the national consciousness because of the turnover chain. Before Miami actually knocked off Florida State on the road, defensive lineman Kendrick Norton produced the game’s most lasting highlight by using Seminoles quarterback James Blackman’s leg as a guitar to celebrate a sack. Miami needs its Ray Lewises, Jeremy Shockeys, Clinton Portises and Ed Reeds as much for their personalities as their on-field production.
“A lot of people couldn’t handle it and Miami knew what it was getting. There’s a lot of things people say about me that I might not have the best attitude or certain things like that, but with Miami there was no hiding it,” Silvera said. “They knew what they were getting and the fact that they knew what they were getting and they were still like, ‘Yeah, we want this kid.’ That’s a big part of it. A lot of these schools, they see me as a football player, but they may not know exactly the type of person I will be and there’s a lot of people who can’t exactly handle that.”
Step 4: Learn to lead
Smith would’ve never guessed Silvera could be the sort of leader he was as a senior. For his first two years with American Heritage, Silvera hunted late hits and didn’t discriminate with his trash talk. As Silvera admits, his personality can be grating and it irked some people.
“He had his moments where he was kind of crazy,” Smith said. “If you asked me in the first and second year, ‘Would this kid be a leader for our team his senior year?’ I probably would’ve said, ‘no.'”
For his senior season, everything finally clicked for Silvera. American Heritage took on the personality of its hyper-vocal defensive tackle. He cut out the personal fouls and taunting penalties, and instead channeled his outspokenness to be a rallying point for the team.
Amiercan Heritage never needed him more than Nov. 24. American Heritage had pummeled almost everyone on the way to a second straight state title. Cardinal Gibbons High School of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was the one exception. Cardinal Gibbons fell four points short of American Heritage in the regular season. In the region championship, it seemed the Chiefs had gotten over the hump.
Cardinal Gibbons raced out to a 27-6 lead. American Heritage’s sidelines were in shambles. American Heritage coach Patrick Surtain, a three-time All-Pro, later called it the most difficult victory he’d ever been a part of.
Silvera admits he played terribly, but he knows he can be persuasive. He tracked down 4-star wide receiver Anthony Schwartz, who doubled as American Heritage’s kick returner. The Patriots needed something to break their way and Schwartz was where they had to turn — even if the All-American sprinter hadn’t done anything to give Silvera much confidence.
“He ain’t got no moves. No nothing,” Silvera said. “He ain’t got nothing. No type of cuts.”
But Silvera — and American Heritage — were desperate. He grabbed Schwartz, who is now at Auburn, and begged him to make a play.
“I’m like pleading with him. I’m like about to cry, like, ‘Bro, we need this,'” Silvera said. “He made a cut. The one cut he’s made in his life, and he scored and the whole sideline just got up.”
American Heritage rallied for a one-point win in triple overtime.
Two weeks later, American Heritage hoisted a state championship trophy for the second straight year. Silvera punctuated his high school career by running a fumble back 57 yards for a touchdown in the title game to spur a blowout against Baker County High School of Glen St. Mary, Fla.
“If you know him, you eventually realize that there’s something about this kid,” Nugent said. “Whatever he touches is going to turn to gold.”
— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) December 8, 2017
Silvera held the ball to the sky in his right hand and leapt in disbelief as he crossed the plane. Chatfield was first to greet him, hopping on his back to celebrate. His teammates swarmed him and placed a makeshift turnover chain around his neck. If it wasn’t clear before, it was now: Silvera had turned into the heart of his team.
At Miami, the expectation will be the same. The Hurricanes finished the most recent recruiting cycle at the No. 8 overall in the 247Sports composite rankings. If the 2017 season was a turning point, the Class of 2018 should be the little push Miami needs to start rolling in the right direction. Silvera will almost certainly be in the thick of it all.
“You can go anywhere, but there’s a lot of pressure to actually build something and the bros there, hell yeah, they went 10-0. They brought it back,” Silvera said. “Yeah, it was a rocky ending, I should say, but you could see it. Give it two years. After my junior year, we’ll have a national championship.
“Even if we weren’t top 5, bro, it’s just a different mentality we have.”