College football's awards season is upon us.
Finalists for most of the individual position awards have been announced, and the blizzard of various honors teams will soon be upon us. (Conference USA will announce its all-conference football team early next week).
Earlier this week, Scott Solomon learned he was not one of the finalists for the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end, but that news was softened to somewhat by news released today.
Friday was reserved for the academic side of things, as C-USA announced its academic honorees for football. Solomon and Matt Nordstrom earned spots on the C-USA Football All-Academic team, making Rice one of two schools to place more than one member on the team.
In the midst of a career filled with passionate play and an assault on the school records for sacks and tackles for loss, it might have been easy to miss the fact that Scott Solomon's performance in the classroom (3.33 GPA while majoring in Political Science) was on a par with his efforts on the field.
At the end of a week when he'd rather have been contemplating potential opponents in a bowl game as opposed to beginning his off-season training in anticipation of invites to all-star games or the NFL Combine, Solomon was caught a bit off-guard with the news that he was being honored for his classroom exploits.
"It means a lot," he said when he first learned of the honor. "I just did everything I had to. I did what they asked me to do and kept on top of everything I needed to do while keeping my focus on football. "
Solomon's quiet, reserved approach to his academics lies in stark contrast to the unbridled passion that he brought to every moment of every football activity in his five seasons at Rice. Intensity evidenced in any photo taken of him in action, his eyes wide open, locked on the target of his pursuit.
That legendary intensity first made its mark as a true freshman in 2007 and led the way to productive seasons in 2008 and 2009. It was the basis for heightened anticipation for his senior season in 2010 and it was a challenge to re-focus into a productive, non-playing role that year after a broken bone in training camp put his senior season on hold for 12 months.
He came into this fall prepared in every sense of the word to be a leader of the Owls, both in practice and as a face of the program, which meant spending frequent time with the media.
There can be no greater measure of his growth over his five years as a Rice Owl than his reaction to an interview request.
In the fall of 2007, the freshman from San Antonio, who easily accepted the challenge of immediate playing time against Nichols State on a bizarre, storm-filled night, could be stopped dead in his tracks by the simple notification that a member of the media would like to ask him a question or two.
True fear has rarely been more genuinely exhibited than it was on that day when he was first stopped as he walked off the field after practice in order to be interviewed.
"I just remember that it was the number one thing I dreaded more than anything," Solomon recalled. "To be standing up there in front of media with the cameras and everything, I just absolutely hated it. But after a while, you come to realize it's something you have to do, and if you want to be a leader, that's part of what's expected."
Solomon's relative ease with the media requests this fall may have also been a byproduct of an even greater challenge this summer, delivering a toast at his brother Stuart's wedding this summer.
"On so many levels, that was much harder than any time I've had to be in front of the media," Solomon recalled with a laugh. "It was in front of a lot more people, friends and family. Of course, I also had to deal with Travis (Bradshaw) and (John) Gioffre making faces at me from the back of the room," he added.
Solomon's leadership was evidenced in more subtle ways.
He regularly was one of the last Owls to leave the practice field and could usually be found working with either the younger offensive linemen or the tight ends on their blocking mechanics. While an outsider might take note of such contributions as unique, Solomon saw it as routine.
"To be honest, as much as I helped them, they were helping me, so it went both ways," Solomon noted. "I think it is important to help those other guys. I felt like it was important and it was just part of being on the team. I never thought it was that I was doing anything special or unique," he added.
Both his post-practice extra work as well as his all-out assault during fall camp scrimmages might have been cause for concerns from others in terms of injuries, but Solomon never gave it a passing thought. "If you are always worrying about getting hurt, it makes you timid and you'll never get any better," he explained.
When Solomon was pulled out of a scrimmage for a breather, he hardly rested. He could be found on the sidelines, working on techniques.
"I had to burn off some steam when I was not in the scrimmage" he stated. "I hate when the rest of the team is doing something and I'm not a part of it. It's tough when I am in that position. I can't be a leader if I'm not doing something while they are."
Those feelings were something he learned to channel this season, when a series of injuries, including a torn PCL in his left knee and an injury to his right ankle began to make it essential that he get a break from action during games.
"My ankle was actually the thing that held me back more than the knee," Solomon explained. "It would feel good when I first ran out there, but then there would be a play were it would get twisted. After that, it pretty much done for the rest of the game. I always want to be out there, but I came to realize that having a few plays off and then being able to come back full speed was better than trying to grind through it and not be full capacity," Solomon said.
His acceptance of this reality no doubt played a large part in his recuperation as the season wound down, and as he eventually tied Brandon Green as Rice's career sack leader. He had hoped the recovery would continue as Rice prepared for a bowl game, but the end of his Rice career has not caused him to pause in his routines. He was back in the weight room this week, shifting his focus to an offseason program.
The fact that he's not yet heard from any of the postseason all-star games is hardly a cause for concern.
"I can only control what I can, and to worry about things I don't is pretty much a waste of time. That doesn't motivate me," he stated.
Solomon looks back on five years at Rice, and the comparisons to the environment he first entered in the summer of 2007 gives him reason to smile.
"Everyone on the team plays football for the right reasons," he stated. "You play for the guys next to you, to be competitive and do it for the love of the game. We have that passion that keeps us playing hard. No matter the score we're always going to do all that we can for each other. What I love about Rice and will always remember is the support we have for each other.
"I feel like there is a lot of potential. There are so many more talented players on this team now, players who really care about the game and you can see how motivated they are to improve."