This is part of a series on the nation's top uncommitted recruits leading up to signing day. Click here for the full series.
Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) believes he’s found the formula for how to deal with college football recruiting.
Looking for the guy to stress about the process? Don’t look Thomas’ way. On Sunday, fresh off an official visit to Stanford, Thomas put priorities first.
He played a friendly game of 3-on-3 touch football with friends.
“I’m just doing my best not to let the process change me. I can’t let it define me,” said Thomas, a four-star defensive end with more than 30 offers. “I’m taking advantage of just being a kid right now.”
Thomas is the No. 25 player in the ESPN 300 and the nation’s fourth-ranked defensive end, but he’s also still an 18-year-old high school senior. He reminds himself of that as much as possible with games of touch football, a trip to the movies, a round or two of video games or an exciting game of "Fugitive," where he and friends literally make the entire city of Coppell the playing field with a lengthy game of tag.
For someone who is 6-foot-3 and 256 pounds, being labeled a “man-child” holds opposite-spectrum definitions. On the football field, he’s a man among boys. Away from the field, he’s a big kid -- and many times, the biggest kid.
“As a teen, he acts like he’s 18 going on 2,” said Chris Thomas, Solomon’s father. “And then there are some times where he’s 18 going on 65. He has an old soul about him.”
It’s that attitude that’s helped Thomas turn a potentially hectic recruiting process into one that hasn’t been completely bothersome. Rather than worrying about his future, Thomas lives for the now and enjoys life. Being a college athlete can wait, for the time being.
‘He’s doing it right’
At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4, there were times when Thomas was poetry in motion. In practices, he seemed to be in on every play. In the game -- which his team won 28-6 in front of 40,017 fans -- he showed his ability off the end, finishing with three tackles for losses.
Nine players announced their college plans during the game. Thomas wasn’t one of them, as he said he wanted to take all of his official visits before making a decision. Thomas’ January itinerary included the visit to Stanford and will conclude with Arkansas the weekend of Jan. 24 and Ohio State the weekend of Jan. 31. Thomas visited UCLA last month.
Those four schools and Texas make up his top five, and all five mean something special to Thomas. Many believe Stanford is the team to beat, as Thomas has made several trips to Palo Alto. His official visit was highlighted by news that he was accepted into the university, news he had been patiently waiting to hear.
“It was relieving to hear that,” Thomas said. “I felt like all my hard work in the classroom had paid off. Taking four AP classes and taking the SAT six or seven times, [academics] is a grind, just like football is. But it made me a better student and made me challenge myself.”
Thomas, however, is adamant about keeping the other four schools at the forefront of his decision. Thomas won’t declare a favorite and is expected to have all five hats on a table for his announcement on national signing day Feb. 5.
Coppell coach Joe McBride said Thomas has kept his opinions about the schools relatively quiet. Rarely does Thomas comment on the schools by way of social media, as he understands that every word said can be featured on a message board.
“He doesn’t talk about it a lot, but I think he’s doing it right,” McBride said. “He’s doing his own research and at times will come to talk to me about my opinion on a couple of things. He’s done a really good job in asking coaches how they want to use him. He’s just a smart kid who is taking his time and asking all the right questions.”
Four pieces of recruiting advice
McBride said he gave Thomas four tidbits of recruiting advice when schools first began to reach out. He wanted Thomas to look for a program’s stability in a head coach; build a solid relationship with a position coach; ask about a program’s depth chart; and find out how he’ll be used in that program’s package.
“His coaches have been great with everything,” Chris Thomas said. “Solomon’s so grounded and focused on what his final goal is, and he’s been really organized in his decision-making. He’s listed key elements and other criteria for making a decision. He’s looking at location, the coaches, trainers, education . . . I’m not surprised he’s able to do it and be so levelheaded. That’s his personality.”
Thomas is a role model by nature, one who understands and appreciates hard work and its rewards. He’s a model student who also happens to play several sports recreationally -- basketball, tennis and sand volleyball -- because he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as just another football player.
And when it comes to good manners, it's almost always “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am." He’s a person who thinks about others first. One reason he chose to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl was to entertain the soldiers.
“It was a grind, but it was an honor and a blessing to be there,” Thomas said. “There’s so much tradition there, and I just wanted to go out and play as hard as I could for them. Overall, it made me better.”
In three weeks, Thomas will announce his verbal commitment, and one school will have a well-rounded individual who also happens to be a defensive juggernaut. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly and one that should be treated with the utmost care. Thomas gets it, even when in the recruiting world, taking your time often can be considered a bad idea.
“I want to be in a different category and do things my own way sometimes,” he said. “I just want to enjoy being a kid now. This is a big decision for me, so I know I need to take my time.
“I don’t want to rush it. I want to do it the right way.”