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Solomon Thomas, Stanford's gentle giant, owes his nimble feet to Irish step dancing

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The third overall pick went from chubby dancer to potential top-five pick at the 2017 NFL draft.

Despite being picked third in this year's Draft (the highest any non-quarterback from Stanford has ever been picked), Solomon Thomas didn’t have a typical NFL upbringing. Growing up in Australia meant his after-school activities included soccer and Irish step dancing. It wasn’t until he moved to a football-crazed Texas town as an adolescent that he realized his prodigious gift for terrorizing quarterbacks.

Somewhere along the way, he grew from a chubby, video game-loving transplant to leader of men on the gridiron. This is his story.

Born in Chicago, Thomas spent his childhood in Australia. His Decembers and Januarys were spent in the waves at the beach, occasionally being swarmed by seagulls. He was big — not quite the 6’3, 275-pound monster he is today, but bigger than all his friends. With a daily regimen of potato chips and Xbox, it wasn’t good weight, and by the time his family moved back to the United States and settled in Coppell, Texas, he was an overweight tween who couldn’t even run a mile. Even without a traditional Lone Star State background in athletics, his teachers and coaches recognized his potential straight away

"[Young linemen like Thomas] still have the baby fat on them," Thomas’s middle school football coach Terry McCown explained. "We just have to teach them how to work. That weight started moving — he didn’t necessarily lose it — it just moved to different places."

"That was probably some of the hardest conditioning I ever did in my life," reflected Thomas.

Those trials lit a spark under the young defensive end. His fat melted away while muscle grew. After seeing results, he worked tirelessly to improve. While other first-year players were just practicing with the freshmen team in the afternoons, Thomas was turning into a standout in the mornings with the varsity squad.

Then, when his classmates took the field, he’d be back at it again, voluntarily putting himself through the two-a-day practices most players dread. The hard work transformed him on the field.

"The Solomon in the locker room, the Solomon in the classroom and community, is not the Solomon when they say ‘set hut,’" high school coach Steve Fex agreed."This guy becomes a different guy; that guy is violent and mean and serious. He just resonates through the whole team."

But Thomas’ high school career didn’t come without heartache. He was motivated and driven to succeed by teammate Jacob Logan, who passed away unexpectedly in the middle of the 2012 season. Thomas took it upon himself to fill the void Logan, a locker room leader, left behind. He addressed his teammates with compassion and passed on the lessons he’d learned from the young man he’d called his best friend.

That off-the-field leadership has the adults who watched him grow into an All-Pac-12 defensive end convinced he’ll be a success at the next level.

"Whoever drafts him, he’s going to make them right," said Fex. "Not just on the field; in the locker room — he’ll be a fan favorite in the stadium, he’ll be a fan favorite in the community. It’s gonna be fun to watch."

Thomas shared that sentiment, while acknowledging he can only get there through hard work.

"I feel like I can do so much in this world. I want to be the best person I can be. Best teammate. Best player."