COPPELL, Texas -- No matter how hard he's tried, Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) has never been the typical kid.
Take it all the way back to when he was a toddler. Few American kids can say they spent their childhood in Australia. Even fewer can say they learned how to swim at 3 years old. And only a handful of those can say they bodysurfed the Great Barrier Reef at 5.
And while Thomas, a defensive end who's the No. 31 player in the ESPN 300, is known these days for striking fear in the hearts of quarterbacks, he was never one to be scared himself.
“When we lived in Australia, he was always out swimming the waves and was never afraid to surf and take on the waves,” his father, Chris Thomas, said. “He was always tenacious. He didn’t fear anything. He always wanted to do something different.”
Thomas is the heart and soul of the Coppell defense. He has more than 30 offers from schools all over the country but is looking a top eight of, in alphabetical order, Alabama, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford, Texas and UCLA. LSU and TCU could work their way into the picture later this year.
Good luck with trying to be the average Joe. Of all who know Thomas, including those who have watched him on film, the number who put him in the “normal” class could be counted on two hands. Perhaps even one. So while Thomas isn't looking for the spotlight, it has found him.
“The thing I like is that he doesn’t need to be seen or be recognized,” Coppell coach Joe McBride said. “The accolades will come, but he’s not the guy who pounds his chest.”
“I just try to play as hard as I can,” added Thomas. “I play my technique and my scheme at my high school. I’m just a team player.”
In two games, Thomas already has accounted for 11 tackles, four sacks and 13 quarterback hurries. He’s chasing a junior season that featured 89 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries. At 6-foot-3 and 256 pounds, Thomas is a ball of thunder who bench presses 400 pounds, squats 525 and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds.
Thomas also is the one who puts student in student-athlete. On a 5.0 scale at Coppell, Thomas has a 4.5 grade-point average. He’s looking to pursuing either a business or sports marketing degree upon graduating from college.
It's a pretty impressive resume for someone who almost didn’t focus on playing high school football.
“Up to his freshman year of high school, he was probably a better basketball player than football player,” Chris Thomas said. “He took on football with tenacity, and since the coaches gave him the skill and confidence, he’s grown after every practice.”
Thomas' father played Division III basketball and ran track in college, so his son has learned well about balancing school and sports. Combine that with his work ethic and ability to make highlight-reel tackles on the field, and it's no surprise that Thomas is so popular among his teammates.
“Everyone knows how gifted he is on the field,” McBride said, “but his best quality is his leadership to the kids around him. I think that’s the thing that makes Solomon so gifted.”
Thomas showed those leadership skills in tragic circumstances last season. Coppell mourned the death of teammate Jacob Logan, whose body was recovered from Possum Kingdom Lake, roughly 90 minutes west of Fort Worth, in October. Thomas considered Logan a close friend, an older brother of sorts.
Logan’s body was found Oct. 18, 2012. The next day, Thomas escorted Logan’s sister, Jordan, to the field, as Coppell chose to play its game against Flower Mound High. Jordan Logan was an honorary team captain, her left hand blanketed by Thomas’ right.
“We always talk about Jacob. We know how much he meant to our program,” Thomas said. “We were like best friends. He was the one who kind of led me into football. He always helped me with recruiting and life in general, knowing what to do and what not to do.”
Thomas has learned those lessons well and is now all about being an even better person once he graduates. While academics mean a lot to him, he said his decision will be determined by his comfort level with the university and the coaching staff. He’s also looking for a school that will benefit him after graduation.
“I’m going to go to a place where I can challenge myself,” Thomas said. “I want to go to a place where the coaches actually emphasize academics, where they make sure you’re in front of the class and where you’re always in class and studying after football. I don’t want to be somewhere where the cheerleaders do all your stuff.”
Most importantly, look for Thomas to go to a place where he can continue growing into the football dynamo he can be. McBride said Thomas will land at a spot that treats him the same way Coppell does.
Even with Thomas continuing to be the guy to simply fit in.
“Whoever gets him will get a guy who’s non-maintenance. You won’t have to worry about him,” McBride said. “He’s passionate about being the best for his team. He just has a sense of urgency you don’t see in most kids. He’s everything you want in the locker room.”