Football journey: Nate Solder

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Patriots rookie tackle Nate Solder vs. Buffalo.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – At 6-foot-8, 319 pounds, it’s hard to miss offensive tackle Nate Solder on the football field. The Patriots’ first-round draft choice stands out for his size, and in a credit to his athleticism and ability to adapt quickly, he’s been noticeable for his solid play as well.

Solder has been thrust into the mix quicker than anticipated, starting at right tackle in place of Sebastian Vollmer in two of the first three weeks, while also serving as a third blocking-type tight end. Solder is expected to once again be in the starting lineup Sunday in Oakland, with Vollmer already been ruled out.

In sharing his “football journey” with ESPNBoston.com this week, Solder, a native of Buena Vista, Colorado, came across as humble, well-versed, and appreciative of his current opportunity:

When he first started playing football: “Seventh grade. Middle school. I played defensive line, running back, tight end and kicker [laughing]. All my friends were playing and it looked like fun.”

Life as a kicker: “I was OK. I just did the kickoffs.”

Top memories of Buena Vista High School: “Some aren’t so good. We lost in the state championship my senior year, which was disappointing. We had some big games and we had a really close team. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of us still keep in touch. That’s really the top memory.”

Positions in high school: “Middle linebacker and tight end.”

How big he was in high school: “I thought I was huge -- 6-7, 230 [pounds].”

Where the height came from: “My mom. She’s 6-2.”

Why Colorado was the best choice to attend college: “It was there or Dartmouth. When I found out Colorado offered me, I took a trip there and fell in love with it. I just knew it was the place I wanted to be. They had a good biology department, which I was interested in. Getting a good degree was important to me. I didn’t know things would work out in football.”

Being interested in Dartmouth: “The head coach had been at Colorado as an assistant. He recruited the Colorado area and he had seen me, and wanted me to come out there because I had the grades. Ultimately, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it because they don’t give athletic scholarships.”

Transitioning from tight end to offensive tackle at Colorado: “When I was a tight end, I wish I would have had more passes thrown to me, but it wasn’t a big deal to me because I wanted to get better at blocking. I saw my future being much brighter at tackle than tight end. I thought I could help the team a lot more at tackle. When the coach gave me the opportunity, it only took me a day or so to think about it. There was a transition period and a lot of learning. I’m still learning, as we all are.”

Why the coaches made the switch: “They gave me an option, but they needed tackles. They didn’t have enough. I just wanted to have a larger role on the team, too.”

Mentors and role models in his career: “I think first of all, it’s my mom and dad. I was thinking about this the other day because my mom hasn’t missed a game since middle school. I remember younger than that, she was at a lot of my games too.”

Favorite teams and players growing up: “Thinking back to when I was a tight end, I loved Shannon Sharpe. I thought he was awesome. I was a Broncos fan. Hermann Maier, the downhill skier, he was one of my heroes. I ski raced when I was younger. That was kind of my sport up until middle school. I was a big ski racer.”

What he loves about football: “The competition. You’re out there in front of thousands at the highest level. That’s exciting.”

Reaction of being a first-round pick of the Patriots: “It was unreal. I never saw myself as that. I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. I didn’t think a whole lot of myself throughout my college career. It wasn’t unexpected, because enough people told me it could happen, so I believed it, but it didn’t seem to match my personality. I still feel like the undrafted guy that’s trying to make the team.”

Any big plans with the money he earned as a first-round pick: “I have plans of some charitable things that I’d really like to do, and I’ve wanted to do them for a long time. We’re still in the process of that, but I’m looking forward to helping out my high school and helping out my college, and that type of thing.”

What he’s learned the most about the Patriots: “I can’t speak for anyone in the program, but I know we put a lot of work into studying the film, knowing what’s going to happen, and being as mentally prepared as we possibly can be. As a rookie, that really helps you. You have coaches like Coach Belichick and Coach Scarnecchia who really put a lot of emphasis on learning and understanding and developing guys like me.”

Where does the football journey head from here: “That’s kind of in God’s hands. I’m just going to come in here, do what the coaches tell me, and work as hard as I can. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ in life, but I just do the things I can control and hopefully it’s to the [top].”

Anything to add that wasn’t asked: “I’ve always tried to be well-rounded. I was thinking about this the other day, a lot of my time in college was spent on football, but also on various other things. So I have other interests. But right now, I’ve made a conscious decision that this is my sole purpose, my sole drive. This is really what I’m interested in doing, is being a good football player.”