STANFORD, Calif. – Solomon Thomas could have played college football anywhere he wanted, receiving more than 30 national offers. He took his time before deciding that Stanford was the right fit.
“I wanted to make sure,” said Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 256-pound freshman defensive end from Coppell, Texas. “My family and I evaluated every school and took a long time with the process, but I had an idea that you can’t really beat a place like this.”
Rated the fourth-best defensive end in the country and fourth-best player in Texas, Thomas made 105 tackles as a sophomore, 89 tackles and 8.5 sacks as a junior, and 78 tackles (26 for loss) and 12.5 sacks as a senior.
He narrowed his choices to Arkansas, Stanford, Texas and UCLA, but what sold him on The Farm was the players.
“How they’re people, not just football players,” said Thomas, who announced his decision live on ESPNU and wore Nerd Nation glasses and brought a mini-tree with him. “I think that was really interesting to me, the chemistry of the team and how they work. It really caught me.”
When Thomas met David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, for the first time, he made a great first impression.
“The first thing I thought of was, ‘Stanford guy.’ Character, intelligence, well-spoken, very respectful,” said Shaw. “But you also get a feeling of toughness when you talk to him. He might be quiet sometimes, but he’s not shy and he’s very determined. And that’s before he plays football. And then you watch him play football and you see his aggressiveness, quickness and explosion.”
Early in the recruiting process, Thomas felt a special kindred spirit with his future Cardinal teammates.
“We knew who we were, just like normal people,” said Thomas. “We could talk to each other and had the same goal in mind, that we wanted to come here and dominate, help the team out, and that we’re not selfish. That’s the reason we were really able to connect.”
Thomas has also appreciated the support of the upperclassmen. After a recent practice, a teammate jogged past Thomas and yelled, “Beast in the making!”
“I’ve learned so much and gotten better as a player since day one,” he said. ”They’re always willing to help an underclassman. It’s almost ridiculous how humble they are and how willing they are to help for the betterment of the team not just themselves.”
When he was young, Thomas lived in Australia for five years while his father, Chris, worked for Procter & Gamble. His father played basketball at Wooster, while his mother, Martha, ran track. His, Uncle, Jon Thomas, ran track at Indiana and was a four-time Big Ten 400-meter hurdles champion.
“I remember starting school there and was on the competitive swim team and always going to the beach,” said Thomas. “We had this little shack by the beach and it had the best fish and chips I’ve ever had in my life. I would love to go back there someday.”
Asked what he enjoys most about football, Thomas said, “That it is a hobby of mine, it’s fun and I just love it. Just the ability to work as a team for a greater goal and to push yourself to become a better person as well.”
Shaw said Thomas proved himself to be a great leader in high school.
“After talking to his coaches and counselors, I don’t know if there is anybody more respected at his school,” he said. “They talked about him like he was on the faculty. They had a tragedy down there and so many of those young kids looked up to Solomon to help them get through it. You don’t usually see things like that put on a 17-year-old kid. The more we heard about it, the more special we knew he was.”
Thomas isn’t sure what major he will pursue, but is interested in communications, public policy, and science, technology and society. He recently completed two summer school classes in Introduction to Decision Making, and Self-Representation and Digital Media.
The ability to network at Stanford was also a huge draw for Thomas.
“With the connections you have, the people you meet and how you represent yourself. That was extremely important in my decision,” Thomas said.
As for his on-field strengths, Thomas considers himself very disciplined.
“Sometimes a little bit too disciplined; too much of a robot,” said Thomas. “But I play hard and I’m very coachable.”
He knows the Stanford defense has helped key the school’s impressive BCS bowl run and looks forward to contributing when his name is called.
“We have a very talented defense that is extremely smart, which is a big reason why they’re so good,” he said. “Very hard-working. I think this defense is going to be something special … and I’m very blessed to be a part of it. I’m just going to work and get better.”
And he already knows what it’s like to play on the big stage after playing on Friday nights in Texas.
“It was huge,” Thomas said. “We had an average of 15,000 people per game, and my second-round playoff game (at Cowboys Stadium) had about 45,000 people. It’s like a religion down there and everybody loves it.”